Some people find it weird that whenever they move their heads, they hear a crunching sound in neck. Some think the crackling sound in neck comes from the back of the head where it meets the neck. Others think it comes from the sides or the bottom of the head. While some do not give much thought about it, others are bothered and just want to know what to do about it.
It is medically called crepitus, which refers to the grating, cracking, or popping sensation you hear or feel in the skin or joints or skin. The crepitus indicates air accumulation trapped in the compact space of the joint or subcutaneous tissue.
When your tendon or muscle slides over a bony surface, a popping sound can sometimes be heard. In the neck, this can happen when your joints glide as you turn your head. This is normal. However, if crunching sound in neck is accompanied by pain, consult your doctor to find out if there is any underlying abnormality in the joint. There could be an injury in your ligaments or some loose cartilage.
Other patients who have arthritis, tendinitis, or bursitis also experience cracking sounds, but a coarser crunching or grinding sensation may indicate advanced changes in the joints due to osteoarthritis.
Arthritis of the neck orcervical osteoarthritis involves degenerative changes in the joints of the neck. These are often due to wear-and-tear of normal aging. As you grow older, the discs between the bones of the neck gradually wear down, lose lubrication, and become stiff. Cervical osteoarthritis usually begins in middle age and progresses as you grow older.
Along with disc degeneration, abnormal growth of bones called spurs or osteophytes may occur in the neck. These bony growths can cause narrowing of the spinal canal, which contains the spinal cord or in the outlets where your spinal nerves pass.
Symptoms of cervical osteoarthritis include:
These symptoms are often severe in the morning and later in the day. However, they usually improve with rest. Treatment is usually conservative and includes the use of pain relievers or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other non-narcotic medications to reduce pain and inflammation.
Chiropractic manipulation, physical therapy, and use of a cervical collar can also help improve symptoms. Severe pain and inflammation may also be relieved by injecting corticosteroids and local anesthetic into the neck joints or the epidural area surrounding the spine. Surgery is rarely required.
“My neck cracks when I turn my head. I also feel some pain whenever I move the neck. I asked one surgeon about it and he said that it was no big deal. I went to another doctor who said it might be due to cervical spondylosis, which may need posterior neck surgery at the C6-C7 level of the spine to stabilize the joints. However, I was informed that a crunching sound in neck also commonly occurs after surgery.”
“I am also familiar with crackling sound in neck. I started experiencing it after my anterior neck surgery for C5-C7 disk replacement and fusion. The sensation has worsened in the past two years since my surgery, but my surgeon says that the noise and the pain are due to my arthritis. I had a spinal cord stimulator implanted last year, but unfortunately, it did not give me significant relief. I think the two surgeries have just added more complications to the arthritis.”
Exercises may help relieve the symptom, but it is advisable to consult your physician before starting an exercise program for your neck.
Tilting exercises involve moving the head along two planes.
Rotation exercises for the neck involve two movements.
Resistance exercises help strengthen the neck muscles. Try them for managing crunching sound in neck:
Perform these neck exercises carefully, without pushing too hard as this may cause injury. Avoid performing neck exercises if they cause excessive pain or discomfort. Consult your doctor if you experience persistent neck pain.