BPS 28: What Does Neck Grinding and Cracking Mean?

A cracking noise can sometimes be heard during movement of the neck. In some cases, the sound of snapping, grinding or popping may be heard when moving the neck. These sounds can be heard when moving the joints as well.

Most people have heard grinding or cracking of the neck at some point. The sound may be heard when turning the head when backing up the car. Generally, the sounds should not be a matter of a concern. However, if it occurs with other symptoms such as after a trauma or injury, it could be due to a serious medical problem.

About Neck Grinding and Cracking

Neck cracking and grinding are generally painless. It is can also sometimes be accompanied by different degrees of neck pain. The pain can range from dull aches to acute pains.

Generally, older people experience cracking or grinding of the neck, which is also known as neck crepitus. However, sometimes younger people can also experience neck pain. The frequency of neck grinding and cracking generally vary. Some people may experience pain after a few months, while others may experience the pain every day during neck movement.

Although neck crepitus can happen with arthritis, but the fact is neck cracking does not result in arthritis. With age, the sounds become more pronounced and louder with more crunching and grinding noise.

Causes of the Cracking Sounds

The back of the vertebrae adjacent to the neck joins at the facet joints. At the end of each bone is a smooth surface known as the cartilage. A synovial fluid is present inside the facet joint that lubricates the joints. Another connection is present at the front of the adjacent vertebrae known as known as the intervertebral disc. A cracking or grinding sound is heard when these structures rub together.

Some of the most probable causes of neck cracking and grinding include the following.

1. Tendon or Ligament Moving Around the Bone

In some cases, the moving tendon or ligament make a snapping sound as it moves. This can occur since our tissues and muscles are tight and they become elastic over time.

2. Changes in Articular Pressure

Small gas bubbles can form and collapse within the synovial joints. The gasses release and create a popping sound, for instance, in the facet joints of the neck. The sounds are heard when people crack the knuckles of the fingers that are not harmful. The same joint cracking sounds also can happen during natural movements. It can also happen during physical therapy for treating spinal disc pain.

3. Rubbing of the Vertebral Bones

With degeneration of the facet joints due to arthritis or another bone disease, the protective cartilage damages. As a result, the adjacent vertebral bones start rubbing against each other. This may result in the grinding or cracking noise.

In case neck grinding and cracking is accompanied by neck stiffness, pain, or other symptoms, it’s recommended that you contact a professional doctor for a checkup.

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Robin BackPainExpert

Physiotherapists & Back Pain Expert

Twenty years ago I was lucky to survive a serious hockey injury. In a sport where big men zoomaround on hard ice and solid wood sticks are slung furiously, a difficult back injury is what every player fears.
It took a long time for me to climb back to a normal life. But when I did, I was determined to spend the rest of his life helping back pain victims everywhere.
As a physiotherapist and back pain expert I have treated thousands of patients over 20 years, built a respected back pain clinic, created the site BackPainSecrets.Com and authored the book “Back Pain Secrets.”
Learn more about me here.