Is Cracking My Own Neck Bad?

Example of someone experiencing unnecessary neck pain because of repetitive habit like cracking your neck.

Is Cracking My Own Neck Bad?

The short answer, if you don’t want to read this entire article, is simply: YES. 

However, the reasons why may surprise you, and you may learn a little more about what is actually happening when you go to the chiropractor, if you stick around.

You might be asking, “isn’t that what my chiropractor does? Then why is it bad?” First of all, your chiropractor has gone through nearly 4 years of school, over 1,000 hours practicing in clinic, and 1,000’s more palpating the neck in school before even graduating. This is how they have become masters at telling which specific joints in your neck actually need to be “cracked.” There are 7 vertebrae in you neck (cervical spine) and 17 more in the rest of your spine. Your chiropractor feels each one, looking for areas that aren’t moving as well as the others (often a reason for the pain you are feeling). They then contact that specific vertebra and apply a short, quick thrust when the joint is at the end of it’s physiologic range in what is called HVLA (high velocity low amplitude) adjustment.

This differs from what you are likely doing for multiple reasons.

First off, the specificity is completely gone. Even worse, instead of adjusting the vertebra that is moving least, most commonly you are adjusting the vertebra that will go easiest (aka the loosest one). This can cause the joint capsule and the ligaments to stretch over time and even lead to instability in the neck. When this happens, the muscles around the area will become tense to compensate and can even contribute to the pain you are feeling.

Secondly, the distance and time is usually much greater compared to the typical HVLA adjustment. This prevents the muscles from being able to relax during the manipulation, requiring more force and increasing the chance of injuries including sprained ligaments or strained muscles.

Lastly, as with all treatments, consider the dose. Chiropractic treatments are most often delivered no more than two to three times a week. If you are adjusting your own neck once or twice a day for a year, that is up to 730 times. If you have tried a treatment that many times and are still experiencing pain, it is obviously not the solution, and as I mentioned above, may even be the problem.

“But this can’t be true, it feels good every time I do it”.

This phenomenon is very common and can likely be attributed to something called mechanoreceptors. These are nerve endings that are stimulated during the adjustment. They block out the pain fibers and send rush of good hormones to the head. This usually lasts for about 30 minutes, and then your pain returns to normal. This is simply masking symptoms rather than treating the cause, which is the opposite of what chiropractic is about. This is another reason that it can be such a hard habit to break.

But there’s good news. As with all habits, YOU have the power to stop it. The human mind is the most advanced object known in the universe. And even better, you have the power to control it. That doesn’t mean it will be easy or immediate. According to current research, breaking a habit typically takes about 21 days. But with this newly acquired knowledge, a little will power, and the helpful tips and alternatives below it will be a breeze.

“So what should I do instead?”

Firstly and most importantly, stop cracking! The urge will not go away immediately, but it will diminish each day. A helpful trick when you feel this urge is to simply move your neck. Try looking side to side 10 times each way, holding at the end of motion for 1 second each. This will activate the muscles, encourage movement, and hopefully take the edge off. A second option if this doesn’t do the trick is called Mulligan mobilization. To perform this simply take your thumb, apply it to the area of pain, look in the opposite direction, and apply pressure for 10 seconds. This may promote healing to the area without actually stretching the joint capsule. These tricks are simply to help you break the habit; improving the tissue is even easier.

If cracking yourself can cause instability, then stabilizing the area will be a major part in the solution. There are many exercises to strengthen the neck. Here are my favorite two:

  1. Chin tucks. For this exercise, sit up straight, and imagine the crown of your head is getting taller. Next, retract your chin into your neck as far as you can (make a double chin) and hold for 2 seconds. Repeat 10 times and try to perform 3 sets a day. This is a great exercise to do in the car to feel your head sliding up against the headrest. Perform 10 every time you are at a red light to help you remember.
  2. Isometric strengthening. For these, assume that same upright, chin-tucked position. Then with your hand push your head in all directions (10 seconds each) trying to keep your head from moving. If you have a band, you can use this instead for an additional challenge.

Massage may be very beneficial as well. The muscles have likely tightened around the area and massages typically provide relief. There are several at home tools for this including the Thera Cane or an over-the-shoulder battery powered massager you can find on Amazon. Going to your local masseuse is always relaxing as well, and you should always make time for self-care. However, the most cost-effective and simple option could be just rolling around on a tennis ball. Whatever works for you.

Finally, go to your chiropractor! The original vertebra that you tried to crack is still stuck. Let them put their training to use and restore the proper motion into the joints that need it, and leave the others alone. Additionally, they can address any other problems or questions you may have and give even more insightful tips, exercises, or stretches that will work best for you!

What Now?

What else besides chiropractic adjustments can help me get out of pain

What Now?

What now?

By this point, I have probably already cured you. Just joking, health is a lifelong journey and you play the biggest role in how you feel. However, if I am doing my job right, after 1-4 visits you are probably feeling a lot better and may be starting to wonder what to do now. So, here are a few tips to help you keep up the progress that has been made so far. 

  1. Don’t do what it was that brought you in in the first place

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is often referred to as the definition of insanity. I am not telling you to stop doing activities you love! However, making smart modifications or taking the necessary time to build up your strength before returning to these activities can be an important step to resuming them pain free. I have probably given you tips and a timeline for this already, but if not, please ask me at our next visit. 

  1. Do your exercises!

If you went to a doctor with an infection and were prescribed antibiotics, would you expect the infection to get better if you didn’t take them? The prescribed exercises can be just as important as the adjustments and will help in maintaining long term progress for your condition. Nike said it best, “Just do it”! Also, these should not be the only exercises you do, but a supplement or a start to a regular exercise routine.  

  1. Come back in periodically for maintenance

Taking care of your body is a lot like taking care of your car. You wouldn’t expect it to last very long without changing the oil and aligning the tires every once in a while. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and since you can’t buy a new body, it makes sense to prioritize taking care of it (and unlike your car you can feel the benefit). An appointment every 1-2 months is usually often enough to keep you healthy but not break the bank.

  1. Listen to your body

Continuing the car metaphor from point 3, pain is like your check engine light. Don’t ignore it unless you want your engine to blow! And although the pain may decrease with time, tight muscles and stiff joints don’t magically disappear on their own. Don’t “wait it out” until the next maintenance appointment. If you are in pain right now, schedule an appointment here and get it fixed. 

If you have any other questions about what you should be doing please don’t hesitate to ask. You can comment below, email hunter@fordchiropracticsb.com, or come ask me in person. As always, thank you for reading and stay healthy!

How Should I Sleep?

What position should I sleep? Get rest without waking up in pain.

How Should I Sleep?

As with all complicated questions, the answer is “it depends.” However, the most correct answer is whatever way you will get the most sleep. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t better positions for certain conditions, and if you stick around I’ll go through some of the most common ones.

Neck pain?

Stop sleeping on your stomach! Imagine standing against a wall with your face turned to one side. Now imagine doing that for 8 hours. Would you expect your neck would hurt? The same goes for sleeping. Keeping the neck in a neutral position is important if you want to stop waking up with neck pain. That brings us to pillows. Side sleepers would benefit from a thicker pillow (approximately one shoulder width) to keep your head from tilting down to the side. Back sleepers on the other hand may benefit from a thinner pillow, or even one with a curve to encourage the natural curve of the neck. Even going without a pillow may be better than one that pushes the neck into flexion (a position it is in for most of the day).

Back pain?

Have an achy back every time you lay on your back to go to sleep? Next time, try bending your knees, imagine you have a tail, and try to tuck it between your legs. This reduces compression on the joints of the back and may be enough to reduce that pain. Additionally, if you sleep on your side, I recommend the pillow-between-the-legs trick to avoid any unnecessary rotation in the hips and low back.

Hands going numb?

This can have multiple causes, and if it persists even after trying these solutions I would recommend seeing a healthcare practitioner. The easiest solution is lowering your arms below shoulder level. Straightening them may help as well, especially if you notice it happening when your hands are under your head. Nerve flossing may provide additional relief and will be a topic for future blogs.

Ideal position?

Sleep is an essential part of recovery and healing, so whatever position can provide the most rest is best. However, for those who spend hours a day hunched over a computer, I do have a favorite position. Rather than on your side hugging a pillow and bringing your shoulders even closer together, I recommend lying on your back with your palms face up. From there, tuck your shoulder blades under your back one at a time. This may not be the most comfortable, but even just starting out in this position may be a start to improving your posture.

Extra tips?

  1. Get your exercise! If the body has not used its energy during the day, it won’t be as ready for a restful sleep at night.
  2. Breathe. Long deep breaths before bed can help calm the nervous system and tap into the “rest and digest” state of mind.
  3. Stretch. Getting some gentle movement in before hours of inactivity can help reduce aches and pains. This also provides a great opportunity to practice that deep breathing.
  4. Limit screen time. Extra screen time can take its toll, especially right before bed. Invest in a pair of blue light blocking glasses or go old school and read a book before bed instead of scrolling through TikTok.

If you are having trouble sleeping and would like additional advice, feel free to email me at hunter@fordchiropracticsb.com. Sweet dreams.

Work (Well) From Home

Example of how to work ergonomically at home and how to avoid upper-back pain from using the computer.

Work (Well) From Home

“The Rona” has changed our lives. Many are out of jobs, and the rest are getting used to some major changes. Hopefully things will get back to normal soon, but with the end still “to be determined,” it is time to start making sure we are doing all we can to make the most of this time. From making sure we don’t cause more pain to tackling the aches we’ve been putting off, I’ll give you a few tips to help you work well from home.

Step number 1: Don’t make things worse.

The kid from Jerry Maguire said it best, “The human head weighs 8 pounds”. Although it is true the average head weighs 8-12lbs when you are looking straight ahead, each 10 degrees you look down adds an additional 10lbs of strain to the neck muscles. That means when you are looking straight down at your phone as many of us do these days, the head can weigh as much as 50-60lbs! And instead of utilizing your strong bones to bear this weight, you begin using the muscles on the back of your neck and shoulders, which you can probably already feel paying the price.

Switching from desktops to laptops typically heightens this problem because it naturally brings your head further down to be closer to your hands. To mitigate this challenge, I recommend using a laptop stand. I like the one linked here that costs about $40 from Amazon, but if you don’t want to spend the money, a few big books can be helpful as well.

Keeping perfect posture throughout the day can be hard enough with ergonomic desks, let alone at your makeshift home-work station. Rather than stress about it, I usually recommend exercises and stretches to bring you back into the right position and strengthening the muscles that keep you there.

Step 2: Make things better by exercising hourly.

Getting up and moving hourly is something you should do regularly even in the office, but the lack of peeping, judgmental eyes at your home allows us to get a little creative with how we are moving. With the extra space and time we now have the opportunity to incorporate some of my favorite anti-sitting exercises:

  1. Cervical chair stretch. Simply use the chair you’re at to do the opposite of what you’re doing right now (looking down). Place one or both hands behind your head and look up to the ceiling stretching your upper back over your chair as far as it will go. Do this repetitively or hold for about 30 seconds.
  2. Hip flexor stretch. The psoas muscle can become shortened when sitting for prolonged periods and can contribute to tight hips and low back pain. We can stretch it out either standing or kneeling. To do so, place one leg forward, squeeze your glutes and core, and gently press your hips forward. To get even more of a stretch, reach your arm up and away from the leg that is back. As with all stretches, hold for 20-30seconds or 4-5 deep breaths. Also be sure to get your glute work in to strengthen the muscles on the opposite side of your hip.
  3. Prone T’s. This exercise helps fix rounded shoulders by strengthening your mid-back muscles. To perform, lay face down, tighten your core, lift your chest off the ground, squeeze your shoulder blades together and down, then slowly lift your arms up and down with the thumbs pointed up. Be sure to keep your neck in a neutral position by making a double chin.

There are dozens of additional exercises to combat prolonged sitting – these are just a few quick easy ones. If you have any questions or want to incorporate bands or weights, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Step 3: Stay healthy mentally and physically

All challenges can provide opportunity with the right mindset. Yes, things are hard and different right now, but there are plenty of positives.

  1. More home workouts than ever. Although switching up your workout routine can be uncomfortable, trying a new program can actually increase “the gainz” when you return. Try something different with free classes at @corepoweryogasb or @madfitness_sb on Instagram.
  2. More time to get outside. If you live in Santa Barbara, we are lucky enough to be living in one of the most beautiful places in the world. With hikes and beaches still open for now, why not get out and explore it? Red Rock and Cathedral Peak are a few of my favorites, but just getting out and exploring your neighborhood can have many benefits as well. Sunshine (especially between 10am-3pm) provides Vitamin D, which naturally boosts your immune system.
  3. More time to stay connected. This situation provides a great opportunity to check in on that friend you haven’t talked to in awhile. Social distancing does not mean social isolation. If you don’t have anyone to talk to and want to chat, feel free to call my cell (916) 838-6686.

I hope you are all finding your own ways to make it through these unusual times. If you found any of these tips helpful, or would like to share any of your own I would love to hear about it. Also, if you would like to me to evaluate your at-home workspace or show you specific exercises based on your unique history, I am doing online consultations, which are covered by most insurances. Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions and stay safe out there!

Why blogs?

Hi everyone, I am Hunter Ford, a sports chiropractor practicing on the Mesa in Santa Barbara, California. The goal of this blog is to provide my patients with additional information to help guide the way on their journey to optimum health. Knowledge is power, and understanding your condition is the first step in taking back control over it.

These blogs will cover common conditions and interesting topics to help you stay up to date and informed. I want all of my patients to know exactly what is causing their pain, how to fix it, and which simple techniques will prevent it from coming back. I know that time and money are valuable resources, and I hope to save you both by allowing you to access this information from the comfort of your own home. Additionally, even though I love Santa Barbara, I hope to help people in any location conquer their pain.

I hope you enjoy the posts, and I will do my best to keep them as short and sweet as possible. If you want to stay up to date with the newest content, be sure to follow below. I am excited to be a part of this journey with you.

Life is a wave, let’s enjoy the ride.