So one of our readers asked us this question the other day: Does popping your neck and back daily cause damage? I would say several times a day I bend my back from side to side to pop it. Same with my neck. Someone I know said that he was working with a 50-year-old man and he popped his neck and instantly had a stroke. Could this be caused from the neck popping? Also, does doing this so often cause any permanent damage?
The popping sound you get is due to a process call cavitation, where carbon dioxide bubbles will form in the fluid, then collapse on itself. This process is pretty harmless.
You could potentially injure yourself by extreme or sudden stretching or deviation. The injury can be muscular (straining your neck or back), skeletal (dislocation, although very unlikely), or neural (pinching a nerve). Of course, if you have associated problems or have had previous injury, you are more likely to get hurt.
However, these are more trauma related and acute injuries. Daily cracking your neck and back, within normal limits, probably won’t cause any degenerative or chronic damage to your joints. As for the stroke, he would have had to have previous or underlying risk factors (an aneurysm, family history, high blood pressure, etc.), but I highly doubt that it was his neck cracking that caused him to have that stroke.
David Unger, M.D., performed a 50-year experiment on himself, knuckle-cracking one hand only did not cause any perceivable difference to him. The stroke case sounds similar to the cases described in this article.
Let me make a disclaimer that although it is most likely seen as a harmless process, if you experience pain, discomfort, dizziness, or other worrying symptoms while cracking your back or neck, you should stop. The body is a complex system and there can be other factors causing that pain. Neck and lower back pain is a very common complaint, so if you have any concerns, please ask your physician.
**We were contacted by one of our readers (who appears to be a medical professional) with this response**
The process by which popping/cracking of joints occurs is actually felt to be tribonucleation rather than cavitation.
Additionally, neck/spine cracking is not necessarily a harmless act. There are numerous documented cases of vertebral artery dissection, cerebellar infarction, and death after chiropractic manipulation. Source
In my training, we sometimes saw it in children who had whiplash injuries while on the teacups at Disneyland. Most neurosurgeons discourage spine manipulation.