Updated: Oct 12
When you think of neck adjustments, does something like this pop into mind?
I'm sure you aren't the only one! I often meet people who are scared of getting their neck adjusted because of what they have seen in media or stories they have heard 3rd hand. Even when I was little, I remember in martial arts movies how a quick snap of the neck from Bruce Lee equated to instant death. It's something that is ingrained in our psyche, and for good reason.
The tiny structure of the neck is vitally important to our whole body's function. I may be dating myself, but do you remember Christopher Reeves? He was SUPERMAN and a fracture in his upper neck led to total paralysis of his body. That's because the spinal cord, the lifeline from our brain to our body, lives inside the spine. If there is disruption or damage to the spine, it will affect that delicate nerve tissue. With the neck, because it's the first outlet from the brain, it is a vulnerable area of the body.
Knowing that our necks are essential for our overall form and function, it's no wonder why we feel the need to protect our necks and are fearful of any unnatural forces there. That's exactly why we should avoid things like roller coasters, car accidents, contact sports, and actions like doing head whips in dancing. Of course, there are lifestyle choices that will expose us to those unnatural forces and/or put our necks in compromised positions that we can't help or enjoy doing.
What to avoid:
One thing we SHOULD NOT do is try to pop or crack our neck ourselves. This is true for the spine in general (bear hugs to crack the back included!). Why not? Glad you asked! The most common way that people "crack" their own necks is by taking a fist to their chin, and rotating all the way to one side, and pushing past that further with that fist until they hear a cracking sound. I don't know about you, but it doesn't look terribly different from those movie martial arts neck twists of Bruce Lee's day. If you are scared of that motion, why would you do it to yourself?
If you do enjoy the habit of cracking your own neck or spine, here are some other important questions to ask yourself:
1. Do you know which joint is moving in what direction? If your hand isn't on the specific joint, chances are, any or all of the joints in the neck are being pushed past their limits. We might be mobilizing the joint that needs it, but we might also be popping and cracking joints of the spine that are already working properly. This can create hypermobility and stability/strength issues in the long run.
2. When you do self-manipulate your neck, does it feel better for about 15-20 minutes where afterwards you want to do it again? If that's the case, we KNOW that you are not affecting the problem area, and that the adjacent joints that aren't an issue are the ones that are popping. That's because when the pop or crack sound occurs, we also release endorphins. Endorphins are our feel-good hormones and they last for about 15-20 minutes before they wear off.
I do want to note here that the fact that your body "feels like it needs to pop" is a good thing! It means that your brain-body connection is in tune to where your body's awareness of a problem and bringing it to your attention before it becomes a big health concern and should be celebrated! It just needs to be taken care of properly. In a specific chiropractic adjustment for example, the effects can last anywhere from 6-12 hours up to a couple of days instead of just 15-20 minutes!
Another popular response that we want to avoid is to ignore it. Small problems are easy to avoid, especially when we are scared of the remedy. However, when it comes to a structural/spinal issue, it won't go away on its own. The symptoms may change, but the underlying structural weakness will still be there. The longer a structural problem has been there, the more wide ranging symptoms and the longer it takes to resolve. All too often I see patients who come in with symptoms like neck pain and soreness, headaches/migraines, TMJ issues, originating from the spine and when we do further investigation we find evidence of trauma that has been there for years, sometimes decades.
If we know that our neck will eventually or may have already been exposed to these unnatural forces and be compromised, do we continue living with altered form and function that will only get worse with time or do we do something about it? What CAN we do about it?
Chiropractors are specially trained experts in the biomechanics and anatomy of the spine and nervous system. We have gone through rigorous training and study in order to best help people who suffer from aches, pains, and altered physiology from trauma to the spine. The spine is multifaceted, dynamic, and the different regions behave differently due to their anatomy. This is why specificity matters. As a Gonstead diplomate, I have spent extra time and effort to hone my skills with the Gonstead technique because it is so widely renowned for its precise approach to each and every bone of the spine. We follow the principles and physics of the body to find the cause and make the best correction to it. This is why we can make adjustments that can have a greater impact and longer lasting effect than gross manipulation.
So ultimately, I completely agree and understand that adjustments of the neck can be intimidating and downright scary. It's a tiny structure holding up our big brains in our skulls and it's very vulnerable to forces outside our control. Necks are also super sensitive, and we naturally want to protect where we feel vulnerable. That is EVEN MORE REASON why we should seek professionals like myself and my chiropractic colleagues to address any issue or concern when it comes to the neck that's already sustained injuries. We are DEFINITELY better than taking things into your own hands (literally) when it comes to your spine!