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Massage/Neck cracks a lot after massage


Hello Glenn,

I am a 24 years old student who work a lot before computer. My neck and shoulders hurt when I was stressed. This has happened since 4 years ago. Recently my neck and shoulders ache and sore again and I have had one hour RMT once a week at a rehab held by a health clinic. However, I found my neck cracks a lot after the massage but fortunately it dose not hurt. Is that normal? My parents asked me don't go for the massage again. But I felt relax after the massage though I do also felt a bit aching during the following days, which is normal according to the RMT.

Hi Yvette,

This is really common.  I'll explain what is going on.

Muscles have a mind of their own; their regulation of things like muscle tension is part of an itty bitty brain that lives in the spinal column, not the brain.  These tension 'decisions' never reach the conscious brain, that's why it's really hard to calm muscles down consciously.
The cracking is probably the smaller joints of your neck starting to move after a long, long period of sitting still.  The hyaline cartilage dries out and sticks a bit together; the joint tends to not want to move, till you release all of that tension from those muscles.  So the cracking sound, if it happens by itself, is a good thing.  Don't TRY to get the cracks happening, that makes the muscles even crazier.

When muscles get insulted, their little brains can only really do a few things:  ask for more or less blood, get tighter or looser, and get more or less pain-sensitive.  In the case of slow-onset postural trauma like what you're talking about, the muscles get tighter and tighter till they can't get any tighter, then they just get alarmed and send pain signals.  This tells your conscious mind to focus on the problem area, and see if it can fix it.  It's like the leaky sink metaphor; the sink starts to leak, the tenant calls the landlord to fix it.  And if the landlord can't fix it, they call the massage therapist.  :)  

Prevention is key at your stage.  Your postural trauma has gotten to the point that your body can't deal with it by itself.
   -Make the muscles happy.  Heat works well; 15 minutes of heat every 3 hours will give muscles a burst of fresh blood and help them carry on.  Go on a muscle holiday:  for the next 3 weeks give them everything they need without them asking for it.  Take time to make them happy again.  
   -Make the muscles stronger.  Get to the gym 3x/week.  Do exercises in front of your computer or desk no less than 3x/day. It's essential.  Your body has had enough.
   -Prevention is key.  Correct your posture.  Limit the span you spend sitting. Be good to yourself; your body is saying that you've gone too far; listen to it.  

I'd bet that your posture isn't perfect but is pretty good, and you have an OK desk chair.
It sounds like your elbows need support,  to take some weight off your shoulders and neck.  (Your shoulders hang from your neck and head.  Imagine trying to hold your arms up, day after day, with your neck - this is the problem for desk workers!)
Your head needs to rest back further in your sitting position, and your chest should be further forward.  This is to make your torso more relaxed and straight, instead of holding up your head and shoulders with a curved back.

It's a slow problem to form, and so it's a slow problem to fix.   But 3 weeks of concerted effort should hit the 'reset' button on your neck problem.  Keep going to massage; it's helping your neck, and the cracking is OK.  

Best health to you,
Glenn Kukkee
Registered Massage Therapist, Vancouver BC


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Glenn Kukkee, HBSc (Psychology), RMT


My unexpected specialty has been correction of disorders caused by working conditions. Who knew that office work could hurt so much and be so damaging? Your back and neck pain is correctable, let's talk about it. I also specialize in post-operative rehabilitation and if I don't know the answer I can at least point you in the right direction. I've been working on pre-medical studies on my way to becoming a doctor and would be happy to take questions about anatomy, physiology and all of that fun stuff too.


Full-time practice since 1993 across Canada
Post-operative rehabilitation and postural correction/persistant chronic overuse rehabilitation specialties

Wikipedia Frequent columnist in various newspapers Alternative and Integrative Medical Society columnist

Massage Therapy education: 2 years (CCMH, Newmarket ON), 1 year (WCCMT, New Westminster BC) Honours Bachelor of Science, Psychology major (Lakehead University, Thunder Bay ON)

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