Is It Unhealthy to Crack Your Neck? What to Consider the Next Time You're in Pain

Don't trade a momentary sense of relief for the long-term treatment a professional can provide.

Jamie Bichelman - Author

Jun. 3 2024, Published 12:49 p.m. ET

A man in a green sweater sitting on a couch cracks his neck.
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Whether you're experiencing neck pain as a COVID-19 symptom or a poor night's sleep, you may be wondering if cracking your neck is safe or could lead to arthritis. If you're waking up with a headache or sore eyes accompanying your neck pain, you're likely looking for any kind of remedy until you can make it to the doctor's office.

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That said, temporary relief strategies like cracking your neck should never be viewed as a replacement for seeking treatment from a medical professional. If you're experiencing neck pain and a general sense of discomfort in your face and neck area, see a medical provider immediately.

A woman in a white coat sits at her desk and cracks her neck.
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Is it unhealthy to crack your neck?

If you are in generally good physical health and have no existing head and neck concerns, it appears that cracking your neck may not be too problematic and unsafe if done infrequently.

Per the Colorado-based practice Neurosurgery One, the feel-good endorphins that may be released by cracking your neck understandably reinforce the desire to do so again in the future.

However, if done irresponsibly or in those who may be susceptible to such injuries, neck cracking may prove to be unsafe. 

It may ultimately be dangerous if you crank your neck too far in the process of stretching it, if you crack your neck several times a day, if you hear a loud pop or feel pain when doing so, or if you have an existing spine condition.

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Additionally, the pain relief that neck cracking brings may lead those who do it to erroneously believe that they're fine. In reality, there may be underlying concerns.

The Jacksonville, Fla.-based Southeast Orthopedic Specialists confirm that the temporary relief from releasing fluid from the joints around the neck does not address the root cause of neck problems.

A male chiropractor adjusts a female patient's head and neck region.
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What are the negative side effects of cracking your neck?

According to Neurosurgery One, cervical spine issues may occur in many people, and an artery tear could lead to a stroke.

It's the very nature of this intersection of potential dangers and specialists who advocate for neck cracking that has elicited such a strong reaction among those who believe chiropractors are pseudoscience practitioners.

According to research and case studies published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, chiropractic manipulation has caused Wallenberg's syndrome, a condition resulting from a stroke in the brain stem, per the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Additional research clarifies that strokes resulting from cervical spine manipulation are rare. Nevertheless, it's yet another strike in the column for both chiropractors and the case for neck cracking.

Per Southeast Orthopedic Specialists, neck cracking builds pressure in the joints, which unsafely destabilizes surrounding ligaments and in turn, causes the cartilage in the vertebrae to weaken. 

In short: you could develop osteoarthritis, your future neck pain could be even greater, and your constant neck cracking may cause a blood clot that cuts off oxygen supply to the brain. 

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