Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Would Popping My Neck Cause a Stiff Neck?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I have had what seems to be a crick in the right side of my neck for several months now. It is painful to turn either way, and massage does not help. In the past, I have been able to drastically "pop" my neck to each side after relaxing and/or massage techniques, and the stiffness would lessen. Now I am only able to get a "gravel" sound at the base of my skull when I turn my head.

Have I popped my neck to the point of never being able to be completely mobile again?

I am 45 years old and in great physical condition otherwise, with absolutely no limitations to what I can do physically—other than turn my head. Please help. This is really becoming a pain in the neck!

Answer

It is generally harmless to pop a joint, but it's not a good idea to habitually pop your neck. Forced, inappropriate movement of the neck could grind arthritic formations in an around the joints. The "gravel sound" could indicate thinning and wearing of the cartilage lining joint surfaces, causing aggravating but harmless noise.

Since you have had a stiff neck for several months, it would be a good idea to have an orthopedist x-ray your neck to rule out something more than arthritis and disc degeneration, often referred to as cervical spondylosis. Most of the time, chronic irritations will subside with time.

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Dr. Homola is a second-generation chiropractor who has dedicated himself to defining the proper limits on chiropractic and to educating consumers and professionals about the field. His 1963 book Bonesetting, Chiropractic, and Cultism supported the appropriate use of spinal manipulation but renounced chiropractic dogma. His 1999 book Inside Chiropractic: A Patient's Guide provides an incisive look at chiropractic's history, benefits, and shortcomings. Now retired after 43 years of practice, he lives in Panama City, Florida.

This page was posted on August 27, 2002.