Doctor Reveals Scary Reason Why You Shouldn't Crack Your Neck

A doctor has warned of some of the risks related to cracking or popping your own neck in a viral video.

In the video, Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler plays a game of "Fact or Cap" reacting to claims that neck popping could lead to a stretching of ligaments that could result in headaches or muscle pain between the shoulder blades or in the neck.

In the description of the short TikTok video that has been viewed over 856,000 times, the doctor also warns of a more severe complication that could arise from casual neck stretching, cracking or popping. Boxer Wachler warns that doing this carries with it the small and rare risk of leading to a stroke.

@brianboxerwachlermd

#duet it can rarely also cause a stroke so I don’t recommend doing it #neck

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Professor of anatomy at Lancaster University, in the U.K, Adam Taylor, told Newsweek that there were a number of risks associated with neck cracking, some of which are small such as damage to musculoskeletal structures such as bone, cartilage, tendon or ligaments. Others can be more significant.

Taylor said: "The neck is delicate and exposed, many structures are compressed into a very small space. The average human has limited movements that they ask their neck to perform every day, so pushing the neck to its limits of the range of motion can overstretch ligaments, tendons or muscles beyond their normal range.

"This is also at risk because people without appropriate training may 'overdo' the motion of stretching the neck. The neck isn't designed to withstand rapid and extreme movements."

Taylor continued by explaining the more serious risks associated with "neck popping" than just muscle or tendon damage. He said: "More of a risk is the potential to damage major arteries and veins in the neck, particularly the two arteries—the vertebral arteries—that are located right next to the vertebrae in the neck."

He added that as the neck is rotated, there is potential for these arteries to be torn, something that would lead to significant blood loss. Taylor said: "If this is a significant tear, particularly in those under 45, this leads to an increased risk of stroke by a small part of the inside of the artery coming loose and detaching in the time following manipulation of the neck."

Professor of stroke medicine at Keele University, in England, Christine Roffe, confirmed the small stroke risk associated with manipulating the neck.

She told Newsweek: "There is a very very small, but credible, risk of damaging one or both of the vertebral arteries and causing a stroke.

"If a stroke does happen, it can be life-threatening or can leave the sufferer with a permanent disability, such as loss of vision, problems walking and problems with speech and swallowing."

Roffe explained that the vertebral artery is vulnerable to injury by rotation and the bending of the neck, as it passes through a bony canal in the side arms of the vertebrae and is stretched during these movements.

She added that the joints between the vertebrae are held together by ligaments, which can be weakened by habitual neck popping. This allows more extensive movement and may explain why most of the cases of stroke occur in habitual neck poppers.

Roffe added: "While a tear in the vertebral artery sounds dramatic, it is actually a minor injury, affecting only the innermost layer of the artery, with no significant effect on blood flow in most cases.

"Even if one of the vertebral arteries is fully blocked, sufficient flow of blood is delivered to the brain by the other vertebral artery."

The danger, Roffe explained, arises when this tear in the lining of the artery activates the blood clotting system, and over time, usually days or weeks, a blood clot forms at the edges of the tear.

She continues: "This blood clot is unstable, and can fly off and block arteries further downstream leading to a stroke. Jerky neck movements or neck popping can be triggers to such a clot flying off, but it can also happen spontaneously without further injury."

"It is unknown how often this occurs."

Estimates of the incidence of vertebral artery dissection after neck manipulation range from 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 250,000, according to Roffe who added there are only a few published case reports.

She cautioned: "Doctors may be missing the relation between neck popping and stroke, as it is unusual to ask about neck popping when a patient presents with a stroke.

"As the stroke can occur up to four weeks after the neck popping event the patient may not remember or report the popping, as they do not consider it relevant."

In the comments section of the viral video, Boxer Wachler advises one habitual neck-cracker how they could break the habit. The doctor advised that "heating pad, good posture, exercise stretching can help lessen urge."

Neck Cracking
(Left) A stock image of a woman manipulating here own neck. (Right) an illustration of a scan showing neck pain. A viral TikTok video warns of the risks of cracking one's own neck, including the small risk of this leading to a stroke. Sophie Walster/yodiyim/GETTY