Have you ever wondered about the popping or cracking sound that comes from your neck when you stretch it or move your head? In most cases, it’s a normal, safe thing and indicates no problem. However, in some people, a cracking noise in the neck can indicate arthritis or other conditions. The fact is, all kinds of joints cause popping sounds, not just our necks. People routinely “crack” their knuckles, ankles, knees, hips, backs, elbows, and shoulders. But necks are a special case because the vertebral artery is nearby.
So, what is the sound of neck cracking, when should you see a chiropractor about it, and what other kinds of joint-related “noises” should you be concerned about?
Facts About Cracking, Popping, and Grinding Sounds
What everyone should know about noises that come from the neck region when they twist, turn, walk, bend over, nod, exercise, or otherwise move their necks for any reason.
- When you twist, turn, or stretch your neck, you often hear a popping or cracking sound. Officially called crepitus, the noise is usually harmless. When people visit a chiropractor to have frequent, painful, or swelling-related crepitus checked out, the doctor can tell them whether the noises are indicative of anything serious. In fact, most people say that a chiropractic neck adjustment not only makes them feel better physically but also gives them peace of mind.
- Many people crack their own necks out of habit or to relieve what they perceive to be discomfort. A chiropractor can advise you about whether it’s okay to crack your own neck. It’s important to follow the suggestions because some people are more susceptible to physical problems when they crack their own necks too often or too vigorously.
- As a general rule, you shouldn’t do your own neck cracking. Leave the job to a licensed chiropractor. The problem that arises when people do it themselves is that they often use too much force or crack their necks too often. Better safe than sorry, as the old saying goes. See a chiropractor for a safe neck adjustment and leave the diagnosis and treatment to a professional. Cracking your neck should not be a do-it-yourself project.
- Your pituitary gland releases substances called endorphins every time you crack your neck, or when a chiropractor cracks it for you. These natural chemicals bring about a good, pain-free feeling in the area for a short time.
- It’s possible that when you “crack” your own neck, you could pinch a nerve or strain a muscle. The result might mean severe pain when you try to move your neck, or the inability to move it at all.
- If you regularly hear cracking sounds when you move your neck, or if you feel the urge to forcibly produce the sound by moving it in a certain way, it might be a sign that your neck joints need to be realigned. That means a trip to the chiropractor’s office for an evaluation. A chiropractic physician can discover exactly what is causing the frequent noise, whether it’s indicative of something more serious, and whether the area needs to be adjusted.
Cracking Noises Can be Harmless, But …
It’s common for people to wonder if something is wrong with their necks when they hear cracking, popping, or grinding noise emanating from the area. While it’s always a good idea to have your chiropractor perform an evaluation, you want to get to the doctor’s office asap is the noises happen alongside any of the following conditions:
- A recent injury: Have you recently fallen, been in a vehicle accident, or bumped your head against something? If so, you might have noticed a new type of grinding noise, popping, or cracking sounds when you move your neck in a certain way. Pay close attention to symptoms like these because they could be your body’s way of telling you that there’s been a dangerous structural change as a result of the incident. Solution: Visit your chiropractor as soon as possible and explain all the details of your fall, car accident, or other types of recent neck trauma.
- Constant noise coming from the neck: If you hear pops, grinds, or other kinds of noise almost every time you move your neck, one or more neck joints might be functioning improperly. See your chiropractor asap and describe or demonstrate the noises.
- Swelling or pain: Neck pain or swelling, or both, can be quite serious and sometimes cause new or excessive neck popping noise. In addition to a number of inflammatory conditions, swelling, and pain in the neck area can mean osteoarthritis and should be checked out immediately by your chiropractor. Be sure to tell the doctor the severity of the pain, how frequent it is, and when it began. The same goes for any swelling you have experienced alongside the popping or cracking noise.
- A recent surgical procedure: If you have had surgery, especially in the area of the cervical spine, you might notice neck sounds and noises you’ve never heard before. In most cases, these are harmless, but you should tell your chiropractor about them on your next visit.
When neck cracking or grinding sounds are first noticed, it is normal to wonder whether something is wrong in the cervical spine. In general, a doctor should be consulted if neck cracking, also called neck crepitus, accompanies any of the following:
Other Cracking Sounds That Might Need Chiropractic Attention
Necks aren’t the only body parts that make noise during movement or when we stretch them. Knees are famous for creating all sorts of sounds, like grating, clicking, grinding, popping, and crunching. As is the case with neck noises, these knee-related sounds can be harmless.
Sometimes they indicate more serious conditions, and you should tell your chiropractor about them. For example, a tear in the meniscus, or overuse of the kneecap can cause a number of odd noises to come from normal use of the knees. Cracking sounds in the lungs can mean oncoming respiratory problems, even disease. Your chiropractor might need a stethoscope to hear the sounds, even though they’re audible to you without one.
Perhaps the most problematic of all joint noises is a grinding sound. It can be common crepitus or the sound of escaping nitrogen gas from the joint capsule. Or, it can result from a bone-on-bone grinding that shows up in the early stages of osteoarthritis. The body’s cartilage wears down as the years pass and no longer does its job. When that happens, you might hear grinding or popping that is accompanied by pain or swelling. It’s imperative to get to a chiropractor if you suspect that your joint noises are possibly related to the onset of osteoarthritis.
Don’t Take Your Neck For Granted
Neck and spine health are critically important to your general well-being. Chiropractors are specially trained to treat these parts of the body, diagnose problems, and help patients regain their health. Our chiropractic physicians adjust patients’ spines, necks, hips, knees, and other joints every day.
The most important thing to do if you hear cracking sounds from your neck is to visit a licensed chiropractic physician. Yes, the sound might be completely harmless, and it usually is. But every adult should be cautious and have neck sounds checked out. Then, if there is a problem with potential arthritis, and injury, or some other condition, you’ll be in good hands and can begin the healing process earlier, rather than later.