Well + Good: What the Noises Your Neck Makes Can Tell You About Your Neck Health
"The noise is not from the bones or cartilage breaking or rubbing," Scott told Well + Good. "Most experts feel that this sound comes from gas pockets of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide in the synovial [joint] fluid that cavitate and pop as the joint is rapidly stretched."
Those pops generally feel good either because of the sudden change in pressure within the joint, or because movement near the spinal cord releases feel-good hormones called endorphins, Scott said.
The practice is usually harmless. Someone who gently cracks their own neck or back now and again is unlikely to hurt themselves because they won't move their spinal cord far enough to cause damage, Scott said.
However, "aggressive or excessive" neck cracking could cause nerve damage, or artery damage that can lead to a stroke. And "repetitive self-cracking can become a habit and stretch the ligaments surrounding the spine," Scott told Well + Good. This can destabilize the joints and cause pain.
Scott and other experts advise anyone experiencing tingling, numbness, or loss of movement in the neck or arms after neck cracking to seek medical attention right away. Scott added that those with osteoporosis, spinal cancer or a spinal fracture should avoid spinal manipulation, even by a licensed professional.
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