Stroke from cracking neck? Our expert weighs in.

Man cracking his neck

If you thought there was nothing worse than having a crick in your neck – think again. A 28-year-old man recently made national news when he suffered a stroke after cracking his stiff neck.

The stroke left him temporarily wearing an eyepatch due to nerve damage, KOCO news reported.

Josh Hader, a former police officer from Guthrie, Oklahoma, told NBC News that he simply rolled his neck to the right to try and mitigate some pain he’d been experiencing when he “heard a pop.” Then the left side of his body went numb.

Hader was rushed to the emergency room where doctors discovered he had a stroke from cracking his neck.

This phenomenon begs the question: Should we think twice before cracking our necks?

“The process of cracking your neck is so common,” said George Harris, MD, a neurologist at HCA Healthcare Virginia’s Johnston-Willis Hospital, one of 29 HCA Healthcare comprehensive stroke centers across the country. “People probably do it at least once a week, and some, more frequently throughout the day.”

“So, the idea that popping your neck is a direct cause of stroke is pretty far out there,” he said. “It’s incredibly rare. I’d be more concerned about smoking cigarettes or the extra order of french fries as a greater risk for stroke than popping your neck.”

HCA Healthcare treats more than 50,000 strokes each year, and, thanks to the comprehensive stroke centers like affiliate Johnston-Willis Hospital in our network, we have advanced diagnosis and treatment options available to improve more lives in more ways.

Dr. Harris shared his expertise and insights on this unusual (and unlikely) stroke event and answered our questions on the increase in stroke for younger people.

Man wearing a white lab coat. Headshot of Dr. Harris.

Dr. Harris is board-certified by the American College of Neuropsychiatrists and is a member of the American Stroke Association.

What’s the likelihood of an individual suffering a stroke in their lifetime?

Stroke is incredibly common. An estimated one in four people is at risk of having a stroke over their lifetime. However, most of those incidents stem from problems with high cholesterol, an irregular heart rate, high blood pressure…things that are more related to long term disease that builds up and causes someone to have an increased risk of stroke.

What may have led to this unusual stroke case?

This individual may have had a dissection or a tear in the artery of the neck. And that phenomenon has been reported in other situations, mostly when someone’s under muscular strain. It can happen to bodybuilders or people who get whiplash in a car crash or any situation where there are quick, high-velocity movements to the neck area. Now, many people in those situations still don’t have a stroke, so it almost had to be a perfect storm for this young man.

How is it diagnosed?

The most common way is through a CAT scan called a CT angiogram, where a contrast dye is injected into the vein through an IV. The exam table will then move through the scanner to capture pictures of the blood vessels. Through testing, we can examine the artery and see where it has a tear.

An x-ray showing damage to an artery

Physician points to an x-ray showing damage to Josh Hader’s artery. (Courtesy: KOCO)

How would this case have been treated?

If someone were to present to the hospital with stroke symptoms, that individual would receive the normal stroke treatment, regardless of how it occurred. That treatment consists of administering a fast-acting blood thinner called tPA, or tissue plasminogen activator, which is given intravenously and works by dissolving the blood clot and improving blood flow. tPA should be given within three hours (and up to 4.5 hours in certain individuals) of the time symptoms first started.

tPA is the primary treatment for an acute situation. Low-dose aspirin is also used to reduce the long-term risks of a second stroke.

Who’s at risk of stroke?

Stroke is more common in people older than 55 years old; the risk increases between the ages of 55 and 70.

Sadly, everyone probably knows someone in their life who has suffered a stroke.

  • Each year, approximately 750,000 people suffer a stroke in the United States.
  • It’s the leading cause of long-term disability and the fifth leading cause of death in the nation.
  • On a global scale, it’s the second cause of death in the world.

It’s an unfortunate disease that, in some ways, can be prevented by lifestyle changes.

This was a 28-year-old stroke victim – and recently celebrities John Singleton, 51, and Luke Perry, 52, both died following a stroke. Why is stroke affecting younger people more now than ever?

There could be a number of factors. It could simply be that we are getting better at diagnosing stroke earlier. It’s a credit to public health initiatives like F.A.S.T. – an easy way to remember and identify symptoms of a stroke – and raising awareness with articles like this or social media campaigns to get the word out about the condition.

There is also an increasing concern that younger people are smoking earlier in life, and illicit drugs are more readily available to that population. Additionally, the rise in obesity has increased the risk of stroke. Both of those areas weren’t as big of an issue 20 years ago.

A graphic showing signs of a stroke

What are the signs or symptoms of a stroke?

The most common symptoms include:

  • face drooping
  • arm or leg weakness
  • speech disturbance – slurred or difficulty speaking

There are also cases where people have vision or balance problems like Mr. Hader who reportedly couldn’t walk straight and lost vision in one eye.

What should people do if they think their loved one is having a stroke?

The simplest advice is to call 9-1-1. Don’t second guess it, call a primary care doctor, or run over to the neighbor’s house. Call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital or emergency room where caregivers will have the expertise to access symptoms and provide immediate treatment. It’s the best course of action.

“I’m glad the young man who had a stroke after cracking his neck appears to be on the road to recovery,” Dr. Harris said. “I wouldn’t worry about popping your neck as a risk for stroke. It’s one of those incredibly rare things that just happened.”

“While unfortunate, this incident has served as a springboard for a conversation about stroke,” he continued. “If someone goes to the hospital sooner than later and gets their stroke symptoms treated earlier because they read this article, then it was worth it.”

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, an observance that highlights the importance of knowing the signs and symptoms of stroke and encourages persons to act FAST (Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 9–1–1) if someone is having a stroke. Click here to learn more about stroke and take action to reduce your risk.

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 182 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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