Bad News For Neck-Back Crackers

Yu Shing Ting
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Friday - January 31, 2007
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There are many things I do way too excessively. The top two are that I eat way too much white rice (learn why this is bad in the next On The Move), and I crack my neck and back way too much.

I can’t help it. Rice has always been a part of my diet. And when I crack my neck and back, it just feels so good!

But it’s time to say goodbye to these daily habits. Or at least attempt to.

“When you crack your neck and/or back excessively, you’re stretching the ligaments, and ligaments do not return to their normal length and tone once they’re stretched excessively,” says Chip Abbadessa, a chiropractor at Kaneohe Family Chiropractic. “This can lead to the spine moving too freely, which can lead to spinal arthritis.

“Also, over time, it may loosen the ligaments that support the spine and the spine will become unstable. And instability along with the misalignment leads to spinal decay or degeneration, which can lead to damage to your spinal cord.”

People often feel the need to crack their back or neck because of tightness or stiffness to the area, discomfort from an old injury, or their spine is out of proper alignment.

“If you feel the need to have to crack your neck or back, it’s an indication that there is an underlying problem,” says Abbadessa. “It’s your body’s way of trying to release some tension that is created by a misaligned spine.”

The “cracking” of your body is actually the release of fluid or gas within the joints. Sometimes during your normal stretches, you may hear or feel a “release.” This unintentional “crack” is fine as long as there is no pain associated with it. But when you intentionally twist your body, and if you do it too often, you could add more damage to something that is already damaged.

“If your spine is evenly aligned, you shouldn’t have the need or feel the need to crack it,” notes Abbadessa. “When your spine is properly aligned the joints mesh nicely and evenly. If you’ve lost the normal curve, for example, if your neck is straight or in a reverse position, now these joints don’t mesh properly and they will interfere with each other, and that’s why you may feel the need to release some of that pressure.”

So, if you’re like me, and continuously feel the urge to crack you neck or back, it’s time to get help from someone who is well-trained in this type of work, such as a chiropractor.

Some health insurance plans will cover chiropractic care. And depending on a person’s condition, frequency of treatments can range from three times a week to once a month.

“The body’s natural reaction to misalignment of the spine is to tighten the muscles around the area to protect itself,” says Abbadessa. “That’s why we don’t ordinarily recommend for a person to take muscle relaxers and pain killers because you’re overriding the body’s natural defense mechanism.

“And tightness or discomfort in the neck and back is very common because spinal problems are very common. Most people don’t realize that your spine needs to be maintained from the day you’re born. All the stress a person goes through from being born to learning to walk, to riding a bike, playing sports, and even sitting at a desk all day - all these things add up over time to stress on the spine. It’s not normal, but it’s common.”

In addition to seeking professional help, it’s also important to maintain a good posture.

One way to improve your posture is by keeping a fit and firm stomach and hip muscles.

“This will help to keep the lower body stable, which sometimes will also help to keep the neck and shoulders stable,” notes Abbadessa. “It’s also good to have proper sitting posture. When sitting, you should try to maintain the proper curve in your back. It’s when we slouch or lose that normal curve that puts a lot of pressure on the discs and joints of the spine.

“And it’s best not to cross your legs because when you bring one knee over the other you’re changing (twisting) your pelvis and the rest of your spine will compensate. And if you work at a computer, try to keep your head over your shoulders.”

Massages can also help to relieve some of the tension in your body. And stretching is another alternative. You can also try taking a hot bath, listening to soft music and meditation for temporary relief.

But no matter what, as difficult as it may be, stop the crack.

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