There may have been times when you’ve heard random pops or cracks in your neck when suddenly turning your head, or you might have woken up on occasion with a stiff neck, and when you turn to one side you hear a cracking or grinding sound. This is normal, provided it’s not occurring all the time. If you regularly hear grinding or cracking sounds in your neck that is accompanied by pain, it’s likely something more serious than muscle stiffness and will probably not go away on its own, which means you’ll want to make an appointment with a reliable SantaMonica spine surgeon to remedy the situation. Keep reading to learn about the possible causes of neck cracking or grinding and when to pay close attention to it.
What Are the Common Causes of Cracking or Grinding in the Neck?
Crepitus refers to any type of noise or sensation that occurs in the neck. The cervical spine contains many movable joints coated with synovial fluid, allowing for normal, smooth movement. Researchers can’t seem to agree on a single cause of crepitus. Back in the 70s, research indicated a gaseous bubble in the synovial fluid might be the culprit, but a more recent study suggests it’s the creation of the bubble that causes the sound. So far, there’s no evidence supporting the idea that cracking the neck repeatedly affects joint fluid. However, it may loosen the supporting ligaments.
Other possible causes of crepitus include:
- Moving tendons or ligaments – Tendons and ligaments moving over cervical bones and discs may be responsible for some of the noises coming from the neck
- Grinding bone against bone – Cartilage can break down due to trauma caused by whiplash or other injuries or age-related wear that causes bones to grind against other bones
When Should You Seek Medical Attention for Crepitus?
You shouldn’t be too concerned if you’re only experiencing occasional grinding or cracking in your neck, but if crepitus is combined with symptoms such as the following, you might be facing something more serious:
- Swelling or pain in the neck area
- Nerve-related pain that extends to the shoulders
- Muscle weakness or tenderness in the neck
- Painful or limited neck movement
- Crepitus appearingsoon after you’ve had neck surgery
How Can Crepitus Be Treated?
If you’re experiencing pain or limited movement associated with the grinding or cracking in your neck, it’s important to receive a diagnosis and treatment for the underlying cause. You may need a physical examination that involves purposely manipulating your neck to recreate the grinding and cracking sounds you hear. The doctor may also want to perform an MRI or CT scan to view the soft tissues in your cervical spine. Treatment options for crepitus include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Neck stretches, massage therapy, and other types of physical therapy
- Surgery to remove bone spurs caused by bone-on-bone grinding
When swelling, pain, or other abnormal symptoms accompany cracking and grinding sounds in your neck, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. It’s also important to prevent neck-related issues by practicing good posture. For instance, watch your head-shoulder alignment when using mobile devices, and sleep on a pillow that supports your neck and keeps it aligned with your spine. Also, perform basic neck stretches to maintain flexibility in your neck-supporting muscles.
Chronic neck pain needs to be addressed as soon as possible. If you’re unsure what’s causing your pain or how to effectively treat it, get in touch with The Spine Institute today. We specialize in minimally invasive procedures such as decompression surgery. Santa Monica patients can call 310-828-7757 to take the first steps toward living a pain-free life.