Causes of neck cracking

For those people who are experiencing a crackling sound in the neck as they make a movement, considering crepitus neck treatment is a good idea. Given the proximity of the crepitus to the auditory channels, the crunching noises are easily heard, and they can be a little distracting, especially in instances when you need to move your neck a lot. But the good news is the crepitus is not a chronic problem. Solutions do exist, though they will require your patience, as will be discussed later on. Neck cracking produces a crackling sound similar to what we hear when some people twist their knuckles to reduce stress. Some men do this on purpose by twisting and turning the neck after getting out of bed or from any prolonged position. The cracking sound may be accompanied by a pop and this may bring some relief. Others also crack their lower back, toes, and ankles. Many people do these habitually and unknowingly, and although it may be relaxing, neck cracking may also be harmful.

Causes of neck cracking

The neck is made up of seven cervical bones called vertebrae that are supported by muscles, ligaments, and tendons. These provide mobility and support to the head and neck, allowing us to bend, twist, and move without stress. However, persistent stress can cause the neck to produce a cracking sound when twisted. Generally, this may be harmless, but if neck cracking is accompanied by pain, you must consider seeking medical consultation.

Cavitation

A thick fluid (synovial fluid) surrounds each of the seven neck joints, providing lubrication to facilitate their movements. This fluid contains nitrogen and carbon dioxide gas, which can form bubbles. Moving the neck joints can increase pressure in the bubbles, causing popping, or bursting of these bubbles. This process, called cavitation, is heard as a cracking sound, and is the leading cause of neck cracking.

Ligaments factor

Ligaments support a joint where two or more bones meet, providing mobility to the joint. Bones may have some projections that are raised where ligaments can get stuck and are let loose when moving the neck. When there is a slippage of ligaments from the surface of a bone projection, neck cracking can occur.

Joint problem

Diseases like osteoporosis and arthritis may be characterized by joint roughening. These conditions lead to degenerative bone changes in the neck that cause cracking when moved.

Cervical osteoarthritis(also called cervical spondylosis) develops as people age. After the age of 50, the spongy discs between the cervical vertebrae degenerate and lose their ability to provide a natural cushion between the bones. As the cervical vertebrae and their ligaments become thicker, they encroach onto the space between the bones, making the space become smaller. This results in neck stiffness and pain, and also leads to neck cracking in older people. Cervical spondylosis can also be a result of poor posture.

A previous neck injurymay occur in certain people who perform strenuous activities like athletes and gymnasts. The injured neck joint may experience more stress, causing neck cracking with certain movements.

Symptoms Of Neck Crepitus

Crepitus in neck is usually associated with other symptoms which are suggestive of arthritis, such as pain while moving the neck forward or backward or even rotating the neck. Patient may also complain of stiffness. The sound of neck crepitus is often subdued, but sensation can be felt by the patient. It can be felt with neck movement.

the other symptoms with a clicking neck:

  • Reduced range of motion. The neck and head may lose its normal flexibility, especially when trying to touch the ear to the shoulder (lateral flexion) or when trying to peer behind the shoulder (rotation)
  • Headaches. Pain at the back of the head or neck radiating to the temples or forehead.
  • Muscle acheand tenderness when touching or pressing on the neck muscles.
  • Arm numbness or tinglingas a result of a ‘pinched nerves’ or cervical spondylosis which may develop due to prolonged neck muscle spasm or age respectively.
  • Stiffnessor a ‘hard’ lump may be palpable at the site of the muscle spasm.
  • Rednessis sometimes noticeable on the skin around the knot in the muscle and is more prominent after a hot shower.

Side effects of neck cracking

Neck cracking can result in some undesirable effects, including:

  • Neck Pain- Neck cracking can decrease the mobility of the neck after some time. This is due to the wearing down of the cartilages surrounding the vertebrae, leading to degenerative changes characteristic of arthritis. This results in inflammation and neck pain as pressure builds up on the nerves.
  • Osteoarthritis -Habitual neck cracking places considerable stress on the neck joints, causing the ligaments to stretch excessively. This can lead to instability, which induces the formation of bone bridges between the vertebrae, as the body tries to stabilize the joint. However, this is not a normal process, and can lead permanent and irreversible joint stabilization called osteoarthritis.
  • Stroke -Studies reveal that strokes occurring in people younger than 60 years old may be due to habitual neck cracking. Repeated neck cracking can cause injuries to the blood vessels in the neck or cervical arteries. These tears on the arteries can lead to bleeding and formation of blood clots that can travel to the brain. Blood clots can block blood flow, which can deprive oxygen supply to the brain. A stroke caused by neck cracking may be minor, causing a transient ischemic attack, but it may also be fatal. Common symptoms of stroke include dizziness, confusion, weakness involving half of the body, blurred vision, trouble speaking, and severe headache. Emergency treatment is needed when these symptoms occur.

treatment

The treatment of crepitus in neck mainly depends on the underlying cause. The key feature which concerns most doctors is associated symptoms such as pain in neck and stiffness. The other concomitant symptoms such as tingling and numbness in arm and hand may also suggest something more serious in cervical spine.

If crepitus in neck is due to mechanical forceful movement of neck while lifting object or rotation of neck, it may not be a concern as it may occur once. In such cases treatment is not required. However, when there is chronic pain in neck along with crepitus with each neck movement, patient may require to be treated. One such effective home remedy is gentle massage. It helps to increase tension in neck muscles and at the same time helps to increase neck movement.

If crepitus in neck occurs due to osteoarthritis, pain relieving medicines and a gentle massage will help to alleviate symptoms. A neck brace and other forms of physical therapy are also useful in relieving the crepitus and other symptoms.

Home care

For mild conditions, one can employ these simple remedies:

  • Exercise - The back of the neck is often held tightly in position when working, causing the muscles to shorten, and preventing natural movements of the neck. You can exercise these muscles by lowering your head to the front until the chin touches the chest. Keep the head in this position as long you can to stretch the back of the neck, then release.
  • Joint Movement - When the neck joints are not freely moving, grinding noises may be heard. Muscle tightness can also cause neck pain. Gently stretch your neck to ease the tension in the neck muscles. Exercise the weak neck muscles to improve the blood flow in this area and relieve pain.
  • Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) Exercise -The SCM is the large muscle at each side of the neck that causes much pain. Stretch you SCM by turning your head as far as possible to one side. You may feel minor discomfort and hear grinding or crunching sounds, but avoid pushing it until you feel pain. You can use your hands to stabilize the head while turning. Do the same procedure gently to turn the head to the other side.

 Exercise for a Neck That Makes Popping Sounds

 Although popping sounds in your neck do not always indicate a serious medical concern, you should consult your physician before attempting neck exercises to soothe the sounds.

Tilt

Tilting exercises allow the head to move along two planes of movement. To begin, look forward with your neck and head in a neutral position. Slowly tilt your head back until you are looking up at the ceiling. Hold this position for two to three seconds and then tilt the head forward until your chin is tucked near your chest and your eyes face the ground. Again, hold this for two to three seconds before returning to neutral position. Repeat the sequence five to 10 times. Once you return to neutral position, tilt your head gently to the left. Although you should bring your ear toward your shoulder, do not tilt so far that they actually touch. Hold for two to three seconds before tilting to the right side. Complete five to 10 repetitions.

Rotation

Rotation neck exercises utilize two different movements. For the first exercise, keep your head straight and eyes pointing forward. Slowly rotate your head to the left until your chin hovers over the left shoulder. Pause for a second and then return to neutral position. Slowly rotate your head to the right, pausing for a second as your chin hovers over your right shoulder. Repeat the sequence five times. Complete the second rotation exercise by dropping your head to the right shoulder and slowly rolling your head completely around your neck in clockwise and counter-clockwise motions.

Resistance

Resistance exercises can help to strengthen the delicate muscles in your neck. Throughout each exercise, keep your neck in a neutral position with your head straight and eyes forward. Begin by pressing your palms against your forehead. Use your neck muscles to slowly press your head against your hands, while resisting the movement with your hands. Hold the exercise for five seconds. Press your hands gently against the back of your head. Slowly push backward against this resistance. Press your left hand against the left side of your head and slowly push against the resistance. Repeat on the right side with your right hand pressed against the right side of your head.

Considerations

As with any exercise, you should only perform these neck stretches to the best of your abilities. If you can only manage small neck movements, avoid pushing yourself too far and causing injury. Additionally, you should never perform neck exercises that cause excessive discomfort or pain. Consult your physician for neck pain that lasts longer than a few days or causes consistent popping every time you move.