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Can Cracking Your Neck Really Cause a Stroke?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The theory that cracking you neck may cause a stroke certainly sounds like an urban legend, specifically aimed at chiropractors, who may crack the neck and various places in the spine to help produce greater comfort. To the dismay of many people, there is some evidence that, especially among those under 60, cracking your neck can create the circumstances that can lead to stroke, though it rarely does. The matter has been studied extensively, and research done in the 2000s suggests that there is an increased risk. It is important to understand how this risk occurs and to bear in mind that the risk is still extremely low.

One study, performed by neurologist Wade S. Smith at the University of California, San Francisco, evaluated a population of 51 patients who had had a stroke. About 14% recalled having chiropractic work and neck manipulation prior to their strokes. In all, the study only linked seven cases of stroke to neck cracking, and other neurologists state the risk exists but is low. It would also be of value to follow a large group of patients who receive chiropractic care on a regular basis to see how many had a stroke after having their necks cracked. By studying only the stroke population, the actual percentage of risk can’t really be assessed.

Some strokes, especially those occurring before the age of 45, are caused by what is called cervical artery dissection. The cervical arteries intertwine through the back of the neck and head, and in some cases, they may tear. If the tearing causes bleeding, a blood clot can form, and then be passed into the brain. Of concern with cracking your neck is that the cervical arteries might tear, bleed, and develop a blood clot that would temporarily deprive the brain of oxygen. This could lead to a minor or fatal stroke, or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), sometimes called a mini-stroke.

Even if it only slightly increases the risk of cervical artery dissection, many chiropractic patients are not informed of this risk. Cracking the neck is pretty standard with a chiropractic visit, and many chiropractors and healthcare professionals believe that though the risk is minimal, patients should make an informed choice. If you do choose to have your neck cracked, you should be alert to signs of stroke in the days and weeks following a chiropractic visit.

In brief, signs of stroke include the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Inability to move one half of the body
  • Blurred vision or difficulty speaking
  • Severe head pain that comes on suddenly

If you suspect stroke, don’t call your chiropractor — call emergency services immediately, since early treatment can minimize permanent damage a stroke may cause and lower risk of fatality. Not all strokes are due to cracking your neck, and a stroke before the age of 60 can be attributed to a number of different factors and lifestyle choices. Nevertheless, chiropractic neck manipulation slightly increases risk and should be considered as a therapy with potentially life threatening side effects.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon952085 — On May 19, 2014

My Vertebral Artery Dissection is for 95 percent caused by forcing my neck during sleeping on my stomach with my head on two pillows. Exactly at 7:00 when my alarm clock went off, I turned my neck from a forced position to the other side to snooze the alarm clock.

At that point, I heard a loud pop in my neck and had a full blackout. This Vertebral Artery Dissection resulted in a stroke. Luckily, after months of rehabilitation, everything is healed and I have no issues anymore. You understand sleeping on my stomach on two pillows is history for me.

KR, Toon

By rave13 — On Aug 19, 2013

This morning while sleeping I had a kink in my neck that irritated me to the point of trying to crack it. While it didn't budge at first, I forced it and felt and heard an extremely loud pop. I crack my neck daily so I thought nothing of it and fell back asleep, although this was a louder pop than usual. Upon waking. I felt sore where I had popped it and could barely turn my head around fully without it shooting pain throughout the area.

Roughly six hours after the initial pop, I was going about my day at work and came to a standstill with a coworker, leaning on the counter. I experienced a foul taste in my mouth at random and washed it down with some water. No more than five minutes later, I found myself leaning on the counter still, only to experience an intense and overwhelming feeling. I began to feel my legs become weak, my stomach began to push a panicky feeling upwards and out to my chest, arms, and hands. My heart rate increased in a matter of seconds at the peak of this episode, as well. I became dizzy and unable to focus on the conversation at hand, trying to my hardest to keep myself calm and awake, as I felt like fainting was imminent. My vision has been somewhat blurry after, but only at far distances. Loss of control, numbness, and speech loss never occurred, with the exception of my wobbly legs and cracking voice after freaking out.

Finally, it passed after what felt like a lifetime. It lasted no more than one and a half to two minutes. I still didn't feel right for the remainder of the day but felt better after eating a nice salad and downing a lot of water. The neck pain has yet to pass as expected.

Could cracking my neck that hard have led to this? I'm a healthy 24 year old male with no serious health issues and blood work that checks out across the board.

Note that I had nothing to eat for breakfast and consumed a full can of mean bean Monster energy drink before anything else. Although it is not uncommon for me to have done that, I have never experienced anything like that after doing so or at any time in my life prior to this morning.

I don't know if I was just reacting to an energy drink for breakfast or if I need to consider and treat this as a larger problem and get professional help. After reading some other posts, it seems like the stroke almost immediately followed the neck adjustment or cracking. Anything would be helpful!

By anon318564 — On Feb 08, 2013

I have some of the symptoms of VAD, and things that could have caused it (constant neck manipulations thanks for being raised by a chiro), pertussis, and it can happen spontaneously. No medication so far has helped my pain, but nothing came up in the MRI. But then again, you need an MRA to see that, which my doctor wouldn't let me have since he thought it was unlikely that I'd have one (true, but none of the pain meds have worked and a lot of symptoms are there, so I think it's at least worth checking).

By anon317441 — On Feb 02, 2013

All health care treatments have their risks. Look at medicine: the number one cause of death in the U.S. Every 24 minutes, a person dies from prescription drugs and surgery. Though rare, there are risks in chiropractic, too. Doctors of Chiropractic (DC) pay an average of $1500/year for malpractice insurance, while MD's pay an average of $70,000/year. Malpractice insurance is all about risk and claims made. Insurance companies do their homework. There are many low force, safe chiropractic adjustment techniques. Ask your chiropractic doctor for these.

By anon315600 — On Jan 24, 2013

Chiropractors don't *crack* anything. They adjust, and the bones pop; there is a huge difference. It is very rare for a stroke to come from an adjustment. You would have to use a lot of force to hurt someone. A good chiropractor can feel your neck and tell if you are relaxed. They will not adjust it until you are completely relaxed.

By anon305170 — On Nov 25, 2012

I went to a chiropractor a few weeks ago for a pain in the hip area. He then adjusted and the pain did go away, although he also did crack my neck. After a few weeks I have been experiencing a bit of pain in the neck area and sometimes feel like I'm floating when I walk. It comes and goes throughout the day.

I am worried as it could be symptoms of a stroke, but I am not sure. Also I did have my cholesterol checked and it was high, but I have been exercising regularly and was able to maintain at healthy levels.

This has been going on for about two or three weeks already. Can somebody help me? I am 25 years old. What should I do?

By anon297920 — On Oct 17, 2012

Beginning last November, I had pain in my throat only when I swallowed saliva. By January, the pain was in my jaw/tooth region. The pain got worse and worse by February, I saw my primary care doctor who said it was allergies and gave me an allergy prescription, with no relief.

I saw an Otolaryngologist in March who said it was acid reflux and put me on Nexium-- still no relief. I went back to him in May and he agreed to schedule a soft tissue neck MRI to eliminate cancer. The MRI came back fine. I saw a second Otolaryngologist in June and he also said acid reflux and doubled the dose of Nexium -- no relief. I saw two more doctors and three dentists over the summer, with no relief and no answers.

As a last resort in early September, I was referred to a chiropractor by the third dentist. A friend had also suggested her chiropractor, who was 30 miles away from where I live. I decided to go with one with a reference. I had my first appointment in early September. I met with him for over an hour discussing my history. I was lucky to get five minutes of any of the other doctor's time. He took x-rays and saw major issues with my C3-C5.

After the first adjustment, I felt better within a few hours, but the pain returned two days later. I had my second adjustment the next day. Since the second Saturday in September I have been pain free in my throat, neck and jaw. I see him twice a week, 60 miles round trip, but to be rid of that pain I suffered through for 10 months is worth the trip. People can bash chiropractors all they want, but for me, it was the best thing to happen to me health wise.

By anon296330 — On Oct 10, 2012

I went to a chiropractor for severe back pain. I was told my hip was out of place, but again, the pain is back, and she also cracked my neck each time I visited her.

I now have tension on my left side of my neck to the back of my head. Finally, when it cracks I feel some relief. But I have been having dizzy spells. And even woken up with it and feeling so sick. I'm just so worried.

By anon266425 — On May 05, 2012

I have to agree with anon261995. I had a bad experience with a pretty well-known chiropractor who was more familiar with leg treatment than with necks.

I had some tension in my neck muscles and went to him three years ago. After repeated cracking of my neck twice to three times a week for a period of three weeks, my shoulders pain became so bad I had to tell him to stop and never went back to him.

It was an awful experience for me and I could never set foot in another chiropractor's office again.

Apparently he had caused damage to my nerves and after three years I still can not use my shoulders too much as they hurt. At least, I can lie on my right side to sleep wherein I could not before. My husband has to massage my neck and shoulders every night.

I never had this problem before visiting this chiropractor. Just think, the guy had a doctorate degree in chiropractic, he taught and gave seminars. Everyone in his office referred to him as Dr. "so and so". But he had no medical degree, so do not be misled.

When he figured my insurance covered chiropractic treatment, he persuaded me to come as often as three times a week. Luckily, after two weeks of treatment I came in only one more time and told him that I was in pain and he should stop.

I think there are good, decent chiropractors out there who could help people with certain medical issues. However, when it comes to your neck, be very careful. I would not let anyone touch mine anymore.

By anon261995 — On Apr 18, 2012

When I was thirty five I went to a chiropractor. He had me lie on my stomach. He then cracked my neck. I swear I saw the ceiling. He then cracked my upper back. This all happened so fast. He was in a hurry, he said.

He leaves the room and I am alone with my five year old son. He is looking at me from underneath the table. All I could see was his face. I suffered a stroke and broke my neck and spine.

My life is filled with severe nerve pain. I have developed rowans, severe headaches and fibromyalgia. Before this, I was a slender, active, lively happy girl. My kids became my caretakers because my husband worked and couldn't quit his job because we would lose our insurance and my son was under care for his kidney.

Anyway, that was seven years ago. It took me two years to be able to walk without a walker and be able to do the simplest task.

I still feel like I am on fire and the pain through out my entire body is depressing, but I am a two year old teacher now and chase babies all day. Hugs from sweet little tykes do wonders for the soul.

Without my family I would never have made it. I live one day at a time and hope the cure for neurological destruction will happen soon. Do I regret going to the chiropractor? Yes. He was practicing and was already in big trouble for harming another lady. He lost his license.

All chiros are not bad. I had one help me a lot once. But now I don't think the risk is worth it. -- Barbie jean

By anon245448 — On Feb 05, 2012

I am a kindergarten teacher and I found out last week that after visiting the chiro for the first time, I have a VAD. The chiro adjusted my neck twice on the side where I have my VAD.

I am going to the neurosurgeon tomorrow, but I am not sure what he is going to do. I have missed a week of teaching because I was told to stay home and rest. I have pretty much slept all week.

Should I ask my neurosurgeon for more time off so that I can get my strength and energy back or just go back to teaching and hope for the best?

By stroke28 — On Jan 19, 2012

I am 28 years old very fit, non smoking, rarely drink, great bloodwork, etc. I had a stroke a month ago. It showed up on my MRI as maybe two or three clots. Luckily, I have no major side effects. Although a tiny hole was found in my heart, my neurologist has ruled this out as the cause.

They also did an MRI on my neck area and it showed nothing. I crack my neck a lot -- almost every day. I asked my neurologist if this could be the cause and he said no way that it could be the cause. But now, after reading this article and reading the above posts, I am not so sure. I think a second opinion is in the cards.

Is there anyone with a similar story to mine? The back right cerebellum was where my clots occurred, which is in the same place as Bigchill666.

By anon201069 — On Jul 29, 2011

Strokes from the chiropractor is a true thing. I was 29 when this happened and I'm 30 now. I went to the chiropractor to get my back adjusted and he said he should adjust my neck as well. So he cracked my neck from two sides. I had a head rush in the beginning. Neck pain and sharp head pains came later. I thought I was sleeping badly because I would've never thought that I would have had my arteries ripped from the chiropractor.

About six weeks later I had my first stroke and it didn't last long; I thought it was dehydration. Then two days later I had another. The ambulance got me and the ER did cat-scans and an MRI and found out I had two arteries ripped from the chiropractor. The feeling from having a stroke is indescribable. I have been on medication for awhile but thank God I have completely healed. My eye sight isn't what it was and my muscles still need to get back to normal.

I will never do this again and I urge people, if you go to the chiropractor, please do not let them adjust your neck. A person doesn't know how fragile your neck is with the wrong crack. God bless.

By anon171733 — On May 01, 2011

Wow. Very sorry to hear about your sister's friend. when she feels up to it, she should get on here and talk. We all can help each other. Thanks for sharing.

By anon170721 — On Apr 27, 2011

my sister's friend just had a stroke from cracking her neck. she popped her neck and 10 minutes later she had a blood clot develop in her brain and she had a stroke.

By anon165969 — On Apr 06, 2011

I have had neck problems for some years. I swim a lot and carry all my tension in my shoulders and in my neck. Last year I was in a motor vehicle accident and had whiplash. This injury compounded my neck and shoulder issues especially on the right side. It was so bad that my right arm would shake when I hold it up or try to write.

After a few weeks and after a doctor's recommendation, I finally went to see a chiropractor. Personally I think chiropractors are great -- if they know what they are a doing.

Obviously, never let a student do neck manipulation on you, and consider the risk. My quality of life has improved exponentially. Now that my back is aligned my hips and knees and ankles don't hurt either. I know that after the age of 10 plaque starts to build up in our arteries.

If you injure your neck and something is being restricted for some time and then you get your back aligned obviously there may have been some build up where the restriction was and now that there is no more restriction all the build up, plaque, blood probably gets pushed into the brain.

By Bigchill666 — On Jan 13, 2011

Four years ago I was 29 and was enjoying my life. Some punk kid at a chiro school was adjusting necks and shouldn’t have been because there was no doctor. I didn’t know any better, and after I ripped the artery and collapsed at my job the chiro school didn’t seem to care. All anyone was worried about was who touched me last.

My life is ruined. I could go into all the details as to how, but what’s the point anymore? I am now stuck on meds for the rest of my life, and have become addicted to pain meds and other medications just to increase my quality of life.

It took the hospital four days to figure out I had a stroke. They did CAT scans and everything except the MRI on my brain. Once they did, they saw the dead spot. Back right cerebellum. The broken artery stopped oxygen from reaching my brain. So, knowing that, make sure you get the right tests. The ER doctor came to my room to apologize. She felt horrible, but no one would suspect anyone of my age and such to have one, so they didn’t do the tests. LOL.

And I cannot get disability so, oh well. The life I have now -- that one wasn’t worth saving. The one I had before -- that one was. Please, if you get adjusted, let them use a tool called the activator. It’s a lot less invasive and will still manipulate the area. I believe in chiro business. It’s helped me immensely in my life. Good luck to all.

By anon119483 — On Oct 18, 2010

I actually have a question. About a month ago I had sudden pain in the lower left side of my neck and into my head. They could not find anything at the ER.

This pain has not gone away, only subsided and reoccurs often. I am now experiencing some blurry vision and not sure if they are related. I have been told to follow up with a neurologist and someone else suggested an orthopedic. Any suggestions?

By anon96860 — On Jul 17, 2010

people this is really true. my sister in law who is 40 years old always cracks her neck and goes to chiro. she is now a stroke victim. she is maybe 113 lbs, pretty healthy. her veins are torn. Don't crack...

By anon96610 — On Jul 16, 2010

anon 70060 -VAD and CAD have nothing to do with eating right or working out. I am a healthy, 34 year old aerobics instructor who just had a stroke (three weeks ago) caused by chiropractic neck manipulation. I am still extremely angry that this is so under-reported and misunderstood.

By anon85088 — On May 18, 2010

Dear Anon70060: My husband had a stroke immediately after having an adjustment. He never made it out of the parking lot of the chiro's office. He was a healthy 28 year old. Now he can't walk, talk or eat by mouth (2.5 yrs later). The films confirmed that his vertebral artery had been torn.

By anon78580 — On Apr 19, 2010

This is no joke. I've never been to a chiropractor, but I used to crack my neck all the time until I had a stroke a few months ago.

I'm only 28 years old, very active and eat quite healthy, so I was quite shocked when the neurologist indicated that I had a stroke caused by a vertebral artery dissection. It could have been a lot worse, but my balance is still a little messed up. Bottom line: don't crack your neck.

By anon75442 — On Apr 06, 2010

This is absolutely accurate. I suffered a vertebral dissection and stroke minutes after a cervical manipulation. I was 39 years old.

Since then, I've been in touch with hundreds of other chiro stroke survivors (or family members of those who died). The risk is very real -- and under-reported -- so we don't know how often this is actually happening. But when it does happen, it is devastating.

By anon70060 — On Mar 11, 2010

Bullcrap. Watch what you eat and work out.

By anon50974 — On Nov 02, 2009

I suffered a vertebral artery dissection 11 years ago that resulted in a stroke. Doc said I should be dead. I had been in the habit of chiro treatment and even cracking my neck myself. Huge mistake. Please consider this when seeking chiro: neck pain versus stroke?or death? Interestingly, since I stopped seeing a chiro, my neck pain has diminished. although not completely gone, I just live with it. better than being vegetative or dead.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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