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Don’t Crack Your Own Neck, Part 3

Earlier, in part 2 of this series, we discussed the second of the 3 issues regarding self-manipulation of your spine: 1) Is it safe? 2) Is it useful? 3) Is it a sign of a deeper problem? Finally, we’re going to talk about the bigger picture regarding cracking your own neck and back.

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Is the need to self-manipulate the neck or back indicative of a deeper problem?

Yes.  As explained earlier, we often develop abnormal motion patterns in the spine, which cause some spinal joints to become too tight, and some joints to become too loose.

As for the loose (hypermobile) joints, this causes unconscious distress to your body.  When your brain senses that there is too much slack in a joint that is so close to your spinal nerves, it will take measures to stabilize that joint.  At first, these measures are limited to inflammation and muscle spasm.  If not addressed soon enough, the spinal bones will actually change shape and begin to lock together to stabilize the joint.  This is known as degenerative joint disease.  Degenerative joint disease can be quite painful and can greatly limit your ability to do the things you need to do and want to do.

Tight (hypomobile) joints can be adjusted/manipulated by a qualified chiropractor or osteopath.  Restoring normal motion to hypomobile joints allows hypermobile joints to “rest,” in that they do not have to move so much to maintain your normal activities.

In summary, self -manipulation will probably not cause immediate harm.  Long-term self-manipulation can cause harm by further moving joints that move too much already.  A qualified chiropractic or osteopathic physician can recondition the spinal bones to move normally, usually eliminating the urge to self-manipulate in the first place.

By John Olsen on April 1st, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , , | Leave a Comment

Don’t Crack Your Own Neck, Part 2

Last time, we asked the question, “Is self-manipulation safe?” Now we’ll discuss the second of these 3 issues regarding self-manipulation: 1) Is it safe? 2) Is it useful? 3) Is it a sign of a deeper problem?

Is self-manipulation of the spine useful?

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To answer this question requires us to explore the physics of the joints in the neck and back.  The spine is made up of 24 movable bones that are connected by over 150 articulations (joints). Each of these joints is surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue and contains fluid. Each joint should move (some more than others).  If a joint is moving normally, it typically does not make any noise. If a joint is “stuck” (hypomobile) or if a joint is moved past it’s normal range of motion (paraphysiological space is the fancy term for this), it usually makes a “cracking” sound.  The sound itself is simply a bubble of air moving through the joint capsule. So far, we have described nothing harmful.

This is where things get tricky.  For most of us, our daily activities of life require lots of sitting, lots of staring at computers, lots of driving, etc. These activities, for the most part, do not promote good spinal posture and motion patterns.  Over time, spinal motion patterns can become altered to the point that some spinal joints move very little-to-none (hypomobile), while others compensate by moving too much (hypermobile).  Joints that are hypermobile often make “cracking” sounds when they move.

For many, there is a gratification with this “cracking” or “popping” sound (“cavitation” in medical speak).  It is easy to interpret this noise as “realigning a misaligned vertebra” or “releasing built-up tension.” In fact, some studies have suggested that joint cavitation releases endorphins, the body’s natural opiates/painkillers.

The goal of a spinal manipulation, performed by a licensed chiropractic physician or osteopathic physician, is to introduce motion to spinal joints that are hypomobile (stuck, or non-moving) while not moving the joints that are hypermobile (move too much).  Knowing which joints to move and which ones to leave alone requires a lot of experience.  Moving a hypomobile joint without disturbing the hypermobile joints around it is very difficult to achieve, and cannot be performed by oneself because of the limitations of leverage.

When spinal adjusting/manipulation is performed by oneself or someone who is unqualified (and especially by someone who thinks they’re qualified but they’re really not), most of the force of this manipulation is distributed through the joints that already move too much, actually worsening the problem in the long-run.  Commonly the self-manipulator feels more and more frequent urges to manipulate – sometimes 20 or more times per day!  The frequency of self-manipulation tends to increase with time.

When performed properly, spinal manipulation/adjustments are very effective in alleviating the tension/discomfort in the spine that cause one to attempt to self manipulate in the first place.  With quality chiropractic care, the need for manipulation/adjustment decreases as normal motion patterns are restored to the spine.

By John Olsen on March 27th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Don’t Crack Your Own Neck, Part 1

Self-manipulation is the term used for cracking, or popping, one’s own neck or back.

Because this is such a common practice, the question regarding the safety of self-manipulation is often brought up in our office.

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In part 1 of this article, we will discuss the first of the following three things regarding self-manipulation: 1) Is it safe? 2) Is it useful? 3) Is it a sign of a deeper problem?

Is self-manipulation safe?

The most common arguments against self-manipulation are that one could fracture (break) a bone, cause a stroke, or cause arthritis.

Honestly, in my 8 years of practice, I am not aware of any particular case where someone has either broken a vertebral bone or caused themselves to have a stroke has a result of self-manipulation.  That’s not to say that it couldn’t happen, but it’s highly unlikely.  As far as causing arthritis, the clinical literature is not very clear.  I’m doubtful that the act of self-manipulation, in and of itself, causes arthritis. Rather, the constant urge to self manipulate is indicative of a condition that can lead to arthritis.  More on that later.

The safety hazards of self-manipulation are much more long-term, and that leads us to the second question…which we’ll discuss next time. If at any time you need an answer to a question about your musculoskeletal system, please feel free to call our office at 615-650-6533.

By John Olsen on March 22nd, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

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