• Dr. James Fonner

Neck Crepitus: The Ultimate Guide to Neck Cracking and Grinding

Most people have often heard strange noises coming from their necks or other body parts when moving their joints. These sounds are called crepitus.


Crepitus can occur in any moveable joint in the human body. Common areas include the neck, shoulders, and knees. Neck crepitus can be caused by neck cracking and grinding, snapping, or popping of gas bubbles in the neck. Believe it or not, most people usually experience this at least once in their lives. It can be caused by a simple movement, such as the turning of the head when someone calls your name or when someone wants to crack their neck purposefully. The sounds come across as awful to many individuals, but is the crack really a negative thing?


Neck crepitus may take place when various cervical spine structures start to rub against each other, which results in the sounds. This might occur for several reasons.


Is this something to be scared of experiencing? Are the implications on one's health serious or something to be concerned about? Keep reading to find out precisely what it means to have neck crepitus and all the relevant associated information. It is time to see what can be done about all those sounds.


Is cracking your neck bad for you?

Is Crepitus in The Neck Bad?


Neck crepitus is usually not something one needs to stress about. Often, it does not symbolize serious health conditions, and when it does occur, it is painless. If other more serious symptoms are experienced, one may want to consider seeking medical advice. More alarming symptoms include neck pain or experiencing neck crepitus after a traumatic event. However, from an overall perspective, neck cracking is not bad.


This generally does not affect the health or structure of the cervical spine. It is purely characterized by the cracking sounds of the neck. Relief can be provided by chiropractic exercises such as mid back stretches.


How Does One Know When It Is Bad?

A person should most likely get the opinion of a medical professional if the neck cracking or grinding is experienced alongside stiffness, pain (neck, cervical spine, or back), swelling, or other severe symptoms. Do not ignore these signs as they could result in an underlying medical condition such as arthritis or osteoarthritis. Visit a local chiropractic office or medical office as soon as possible if there is suspicion of a severe problem.


How Does Someone Know When They Are Experiencing Neck Crepitus?


This can be a trick question, as it is usually not accompanied by pain, but it can be identified by different levels of stiffness as well as neck pain and joint pain. The neck pain can range anywhere from a sharp pain to a thorough ache. Neck pain could be a sign that it is time to seek medical help. Symptoms can vary depending on the type of crepitus someone is dealing with.


Neck cracking and grinding noises often come across as worse to people who associate neck pain with the condition. Structural damage to the neck does not occur during cracking. Studies show that individuals who worry or stress over these sounds find it most challenging to handle. One can see the difference in severity based on how people react to the neck cracking.


Neck Cracking and the Anatomy Behind It


Finding out about neck cracking is one thing, but understanding why and how it can crack is something else. If a person understands how something functions, it seems to become more manageable.


The back of the adjacent vertebrae in the neck are joined together where the facet joints are located. There is cartilage on the ends of these bones, which makes them smooth. The joints are lubricated by something called synovial fluid, which is inside the facet joints. An invertebrate disc space is located in front of the adjacent vertebrae. The cracks could also occur due to the deterioration of the disc space. The various structures in the cervical spine or the disc space grind against each other when neck crepitus occurs.


Why does your neck crack?

The Causes of Neck Crepitus and Cracking


General causes of neck crepitus include:

  • Tendon or ligament movement around people's bones - A moving tendon or ligament can make a snapping noise as it moves around bones as they are attached to a person's bones. This is common because people's muscles tend to tighten up and become less elastic as they age.

  • Changes in pressure levels within joints- A person has synovial joints in their neck. Tiny gas bubbles within the synovial joints can form, are then let out, and result in popping sounds. This generally occurs in the facet joints of the neck. It may sound serious; however, it is not harmful. In fact, this is the same sound that occurs when people crack their knuckles. One can experience this sound through natural movements or by going to a chiropractor for physical therapy. Many believe the noise does come from the collapse of gas bubbles within the joints, but this is yet to be confirmed.

  • Grinding bones - Osteoarthritis may result in the deterioration of facet joints and cartilage. When this occurs, the protective cartilage starts to wear down, and vertebral bones that are adjacent to one another begin to rub against one another, which results in the grinding noise. This can happen in areas that are less cushioned, which could result in damage to the cervical spine.

The neck cracking and grinding could be caused by one of these factors or a combination of them. This generally does not cause damage to the cervical spine; however, a person would need to monitor these symptoms to determine whether they need to see a medical professional or not regarding cracking of the neck.


The Types of Crepitus

There are two types of crepitus that an individual could be faced with. These include soft tissue crepitus and crepitus due to joint problems like arthritis or osteoarthritis. A person should be more concerned if they are experiencing soft tissue crepitus as this is a result of air filling up inside one's body tissues. You might need to see a health specialist for this reason.


While arthritis and osteoarthritis do cause pain, they generally are not likely detrimental to one's health. Sometimes these health issues can cause pain and swelling and might require a medical examination. Studies and different information provide that soft tissue crepitus is far worse than joint pain or cartilage crepitus. Neck crepitus is most commonly a form of joint pain crepitus.


How Long Does Neck Crepitus Last?


Luckily, one does not need to worry about dealing with neck cracking for extended periods; however, different information might suggest a difference of opinion. What should be monitored is how frequently it occurs. It is not a constant condition that needs to be dealt with, and it is generally considered quite safe. Cervical spine health is of utmost importance; therefore, a person must ensure that movement is not difficult. Severe pain of the spine should also be taken seriously. Chiropractic clinics or chiropractic exercises might provide a sufficient solution to the problem.


Who Experiences Neck Crepitus?


People of all ages can get neck cracking; however, it is more common in older people or people who are aging or have arthritis. This is different for each individual. The noises may be a frequent occurrence for some, while others only experience the neck cracking for a couple of days. The cracking sounds can tell a lot about the so-called crepitus.


One factor that distinguishes between the sounds that younger people hear and older people hear is that younger individuals are more likely to have loud, distinct, and pronounced neck cracking, whereas older individuals have to deal with crunching or grinding sounds.


What Is Crepitus a Sign Of?

Neck cracking can be a sign of various health conditions. It can be an indication of conditions like facet joints, osteoarthritis, or arthritis. Generally, the cracking sounds are not detrimental; however, the frequent sounds heard may be a sign that it is time to seek medical advice. It may also be an indication of another form of joint injury or a more serious problem. How does a person know when it is time to see a professional and get medical help?


The cracks may cause other complications like:

  • Persistent aches and pain that lead to restricted movement

  • Limited mobility of a joint or the cervical spine, like nuchal rigidity

  • A disability

  • It may be difficult to breathe.

  • Swelling of specific areas

  • A spread of infection if it is a severe injury or problem

For more intense cases like these, a chiropractor or professional can give you treatments that are going to help reduce the pain or swelling and provide relief.


The Final Verdict


It is evident that people are not likely to be in any serious danger due to neck cracking; however, it is important to remember that health should be at the top of everyone's list of priorities. Whether the neck crepitus is a result of gas bubbles within a joint or the grinding of the vertebrae in one's cervical spine, it is not something to be alarmed by.


Cracking and grinding sounds are things that occur to many individuals multiple times a day. Gain the necessary information from an experienced Columbus chiropractor so that appropriate steps can be followed.

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