Self Manipulation – Is it harmful to crack our own joints?
A question we are asked by our patients is: So is it bad to crack my own neck and/or back?
This response requires developing a bit of background first.
SPINAL JOINT SEGMENT
It’s important to understand that the habit of self-manipulation (cracking one’s own joints) has developed out of the need. It’s usually because one has developed tight or stiff muscles, joints, or sometimes both.
For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on joint tightness, otherwise known as fixation, which is when the spinal segment does not function properly at a specific level. ie. It is fixated / restricted/ dysfunctional. When one cracks one’s own neck or back, it usually involves the spinal segment either above and/or below that problem segment, and not where the specific problem exists.
This usually brings temporary relief due to a “spillover” effect, in which the spinal nerves around the facet joints produce “relief” not only to the manipulated segments but to those around it too.
So ultimately one doesn’t deal with the problem segment at all. And the relief is only temporary. This temporary relief from tightness can last days or weeks; in more intense cases, a few hours. This is why some people will crack their necks/backs 3-4 times a day.
SO IS IT HARMFUL TO CRACK OUR OWN JOINTS?
In principle, spinal manipulation is not harmful at all. In the past, some would have had us believe that manipulation was loosening the joint ligaments, causing joint damage.
Research has shown that spinal joint manipulation does the following, amongst other things:
- Releases entrapped meniscoids ie: cartilage within the spinal joint, much like a miniature version of that in our knees, the meniscus.
- Stretches tight muscles surrounding the affected joint segments.
- Improves joint mobility.
- Nourishes the structures surrounding the spinal joints eg: the disc.
- Helps flush excess fluid away from the area, which would otherwise cause nerve irritation.
- Helps create more space for the entrapped spinal nerve root, where relevant.
But, too much of anything is not good for us. An example is water. Although it is something we cannot live without, too much of it can actually prove toxic to our systems. And so it is with manipulation. Although too much manipulation isn’t toxic, it can cause excess wear and tear of our joints.
What, one might ask, is too much manipulation?
Chiropractors should not manipulate the same joint more than 24 times a year. So if a person is self-manipulating several times a day or a week, that number will quickly be surpassed. There is a risk of excessive wear on the joints.
WON’T A CHIROPRACTOR WEAR & TEAR MY JOINTS?
No. What one usually finds is that once a person has seen a Chiropractor and the correct segment is treated, the need for self-manipulation stops.
So if you’re one of those people who crack their own necks/backs, then it may be worth visiting a Chiropractor, whether one has any pain in the region or not.
Should you have any questions, we encourage you to reach out to us.