Neck grinding or cracking produces a crackling sound similar to what we hear when some people twist their knuckles to reduce stress. Some men do this on purpose by twisting and turning the neck after getting out of bed or from any prolonged position. The cracking sound may be accompanied by a pop and this may bring some relief. Others also crack their lower back, toes, and ankles. Many people do these habitually and unknowingly, and although it may be relaxing, it may also be harmful.
The neck is made up of seven cervical bones called vertebrae that are supported by muscles, ligaments, and tendons. These provide mobility and support to the head and neck, allowing us to bend, twist, and move without stress. However, persistent stress can cause the neck to produce a cracking sound when twisted. Generally, this may be harmless, but if your neck cracks and feels pain, you must consider seeking medical consultation.
A thick fluid (synovial fluid) surrounds each of the seven neck joints, providing lubrication to facilitate their movements. This fluid contains nitrogen and carbon dioxide gas, which can form bubbles. Moving the neck joints can increase pressure in the bubbles, causing popping, or bursting of these bubbles. This process, called cavitation, is heard as a cracking sound, and is the leading cause of cracking.
Ligaments support a joint where two or more bones meet, providing mobility to the joint. Bones may have some projections that are raised where ligaments can get stuck and are let loose when moving the neck. When there is a slippage of ligaments from the surface of a bone projection, neck cracking will occur.
Diseases like osteoporosis and arthritis may be characterized by joint roughening. These conditions lead to degenerative bone changes in the neck that cause cracking when moved.
Cervical osteoarthritis (also called cervical spondylosis) develops as people age. After the age of 50, the spongy discs between the cervical vertebrae degenerate and lose their ability to provide a natural cushion between the bones. As the cervical vertebrae and their ligaments become thicker, they encroach onto the space between the bones, making the space become smaller. This results in neck stiffness and pain, and also leads to cracking in older people. Cervical spondylosis can also be a result of poor posture.
A previous neck injurymay occur in certain people who perform strenuous activities like athletes and gymnasts. The injured neck joint may experience more stress, causing neck grinding and cracking with certain movements.
It can result in some undesirable effects, including:
For mild conditions, one can employ these simple remedies:
You may need medical help when severe side effects such as neck pain, stroke, and osteoarthritis occur. Keep the neck stable and avoid sudden neck movements until you get appropriate medical help.