Ever felt like you need to crack your neck or back multiple times during the day? If so, you may have an area of joint instability and at risk of causing further joint dysfunctions over time
Instability is when there is too much joint segment movement relative to the one above and below.
When a joint is unstable the body will lock down that joint segment by tightening or spasming up surrounding muscles. You will feel this as tension and tightness in that area.
Self manipulation or ‘cracking’ will neurologically decrease the muscle tension temporarily. While it does provide temporary relief, the instability will be sensed again and the body will lock it back down within a matter minutes or hours.
If this scenario is played out several times a day will begin to disturb the mechanics of that area, predisposing it to early degenerative change or spinal osteoarthritis.
So what should you do if you have this need to pop your own neck or back?
1. See a professional. The reason why that joint segment is constantly unstable is because there is usually a restricted pair of joints above and below with the unstable segment in the middle. The middle segment is compensating and moving more because of the lack of movement above and/or below it.
So getting your therapist to relieve tension around the areas that are "asymptomatic" and hypomobile will equalise the mobility demand of the whole region.
2. Improving stability around the area by utilising breathing/core bracing strategies for the lower back and strengthening the deep neck flexors for the neck. These are just a couple of the many strategies that you can incorporate.
3. MOVE! If your body doesn't “need” a motion, it will over time limit that motion. So being sedentary and sitting for 6-8 hours can't be balanced out with 30-60 minutes in the gym. You need to make sure you’re getting adequate movement throughout the day by improving work habits and ergonomics.