Are Neck Adjustments Really Safe?

Have you ever cracked a joint to relieve pain or stiffness? These manipulations are quick movements which loosen the joint and its ligaments, and often makes a “pop” or “crack” sound. The joints contain fluid and gasses. When the liquid gets put under pressure from the force being applied to the joint, the gas exits which creates the popping sound. 

Are Neck Adjustments Safe?

Neck cracking especially is an area of interest since there is a rare chance of stroke brought on by a tear to the lining of the vertebral artery, which supplies blood to the brain. This study estimates that chiropractors perform between 18 and 38 million cervical spine (neck) manipulations each year. So is neck cracking worth the small risk of injury? The British Medical Journal released commentaries from both sides of the debate dealing with professional manipulations only. The popular practice is divided between the specialists: chiropractors believe the manipulation is useful and safe; orthopedic surgeons disagree.

Yes, it is!

Epidemiologist Dr. David Cassidy of the University of Toronto points to the tremendously low risk of stroke. Dr. Stephen Perle, a chiropractor and Professor of Clinical Sciences at the University of Bridgeport, is researching the relationship between neck treatments and stroke, agrees with Dr. Cassidy. Says Dr. Perle, “We know that spinal manipulation causes stimulation of areas of the brain that block pain, changes the function of the muscles that help support the spine and changes the flexibility of motion segments in the spine. Exercises can help loosen the muscles and other treatments can help with pain, but the flexibility of the joint — that’s uniquely aided by manipulation.”

Minimal Risk

Dr. Michael R. Marks, an orthopedic surgeon who is a spokesperson for the American Association of Orthopedic Surgery, says, “When we talk about medical complications, they can be really small, say one percent. But if it happens to you, it’s 100 percent.” He thinks age could be a contributing factor to increased risk. He says, “If you’re a relatively young person, a spinal manipulation is relatively safe because you’ve got muscle strength, strength in the ligaments, bone strength. But as you age and your blood vessels get a little bit hard, you have some atherosclerosis — because of the chiropractic manipulation — you run the risk of artery eruption.” Additionally, older adults have more porous bones that could be more prone to fracture. Thus, a quick and forceful motion is more likely to cause a fracture. 

What Should You Do?

It seems that the odds of getting an injury from cervical manipulations are very low, especially if you have healthy, strong bones, muscles, and ligaments. But, always consult your primary care physician with your questions. The decision is yours! At least you don’t have to worry about developing arthritis – research consistently shows there is no relationship between cracking your joints and getting this condition. 


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This article is made available for general, entertainment and educational purposes only. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of The Joint Corp (or its franchisees and affiliates). You should always seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.