Why Is My Neck Cracking?

If you’ve ever heard cracking or popping in your neck, the first thing you realize is what a loud sound it makes. Why is it so loud? What is happening?

Neck crepitus

First of all, don’t worry if you have neck crepitus. The word ‘crepitus’ is from early 19th century Latin, from the root word ‘crepare,’ which means ‘to rattle.’ Popping and cracking occur all over the frame of your body, and even more often during chiropractic adjustments. Your neck happens to be quite close to your ears, so you’re likely to hear it more acutely than, say, knee crepitus.

However, if the cracking is accompanied by other symptoms, such as pain or swelling, or if it starts to happen following a specific injurious event, then it’s very well worth seeking treatment.

However, in the ordinary course of events, this cracking is similar to the cracking of your knuckles. While some people enjoy doing this, others find it disturbing and alarming. Some medical professionals believe it has to do with air around the joints. More about that in a moment.

When does it happen?

Neck crepitus can happen to anyone at any age. It could happen when you first wake up in the morning, or when you turn your head sharply, such as looking behind you to reverse the car. The sound is precipitated by movement of the neck. It can be a single sound or a series, soft or loud. (We know a deaf woman who says it’s one of the few sounds she can hear without her hearing aid!)

It can also be seasonal, meaning that certain times of the year or month it may occur more frequently. Interestingly enough, the sound may make the person worry, causing them to stiffen in an attempt to avoid making the noise again, which in turn can cause a stiff neck!

Why does it happen?

As people age, the cartilage in their neck wears down, and the joints deteriorate due to osteoarthritis, meaning there is a lack of cushioning, which can also cause cracking. But, as previously mentioned, cracking joints in and of themselves are no cause for alarm.

By OpenStax College - Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Website. http://cnx.org/content/col11496/1.6/, Jun 19, 2013., CC BY 3.0

By OpenStax College - Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Website. http://cnx.org/content/col11496/1.6/, Jun 19, 2013., CC BY 3.0

It can be caused by the bones grinding together, or by pressure changes such as those in the cervical facet joints or by movement of the ligaments and tendons.

Synovial joints

A synovial joint is a joint with a fibrous joint capsule. This capsule contains synovial fluid. This fluid protects and lubricates the joints. Some theories believe that cracking sounds are caused by tiny air bubbles in the synovial fluid popping as the result if movement.

As previously mentioned, unless other symptoms or problems accompany the neck crepitus, it’s not a worry. However, if there is pain or swelling, or if there has been an injury which caused it, see a health professional.

When you’re injured in a car accident, there is no reason to delay treatment due to lack of insurance or while waiting for insurance approval. Here at Northeast Portland Chiropractic, we treat car accident cases with zero out-of-pocket cost to the patient. Call 503-493-9730.