During my undergrad at Wilfrid Laurier, I would study in the quiet floor of the library. It was dead quiet up there even though there were hundreds of students cramming for midterms and finals.
The only sounds I would hear was someone opening a drink, clearing their throat and cracking their own necks and back.
The distinctive popping/cracking sound is from air held within a capsule that surrounds the small facet joints in your spine.
This happens with their is separation from joint surfaces more than the current normal.
If you have ever been manually adjusted by me this is the same sound you hear and the same mechanism.
There is one major difference though.
When I adjust your spine, I’m looking for areas that are not moving correctly, and therefore we are attempting to increase the movement to restore proper function. These areas can be tense and sore since there is inflammation from the lack of movement. It is good when these areas are adjusted and restore motion because if a joint lacks the normal movement it will continue to stiffen up and start to deteriorate over time and your symptoms will progress. This is called osteoarthritis.
On the other hand when you “self crack” the joints in your spine, it is achieved by making large movements to that particular part of the spine. People that do this to their low back will twist around until they hear a pop. People that try with their neck will push on their chin into rotation or grab the top of their head and pull in hopes that something will give.
The way the joints work in the spine is each of them does a small amount of movement to create the large movement we see on the outside.
When a joint becomes restricted and inflammed you will feel pain and stiffness which you try to get relief from self adjusting.
I’d be lying if sometimes this didn’t seem to help, but the concern is by self cracking you will start to create more movements in the joints above and below the joint that is locked up. In other words by cranking on your neck or back you are creating joints that are hypermobile (move too much and lack stability). This without a doubt will put more stress onto the joint surfaces, wear down the cartilage and create osteoarthritis in your future.
So next time you think to “self crack” think twice.