Crepitus is the technical term for the cracking sound your neck makes when you move your head too quickly. It also applies to any other joint noise just as grinding, popping, or snapping and is usually harmless. However, that doesn’t mean you should cause your neck to crack. Read on for information about neck cracking and find out why its best to leave joint manipulation to the professionals.
Reasons your neck cracks
We all have experienced the sensation…you’re attempting to back out of a tight parking space, so you turn your head around to look out the back window. Crack! Or you hear someone call your name and whip around to respond. Crack! These daily joint noises are usually totally normal and could be occurring for three simple reasons.
The most common and harmless cause of neck cracking is nitrogen bubbles popping in the synovial fluid in your joints. This fluid helps the bones and tissue to move together smoothly and contains oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. Each joint in the neck is surrounded by a protective capsule of this fluid and gas, which can generate bubbles. When these bubbles pop, due to the joint capsule stretching, it can make an audible sound.
The entire body is one well-oiled machine. Every time a joint moves, the tendons, and ligaments, which connect the bones and muscles in the joint move as well. These fibers can occasionally shift out of place and will snap back with a particular motion, creating noise or a cracking feeling.
As mentioned above, joints are highly protected and padded by fluid capsules and cartilage. Repetitive motion or any arthritis eventually wears down that cartilage and causes vertebral bones to rub together. This bone on bone movement is rough and can lead to painful motion and uncomfortable popping noises.
When neck cracking is concerning
Any time you feel pain
If you crack your neck intentionally, or you move too quickly, and you experience pain following the pop, seek medical attention. This also applies if you experience grinding or swelling as well.
When it makes you feel strange
Warmth or tingling in your limbs following neck cracking is usually cause for concern. Any sense of numbness, dizziness, or nausea could indicate a pinched nerve or other damage. Seek medical attention if symptoms don’t dissipate within a few seconds.
Following surgery or accident
A neck surgery or motor vehicle accident, even one where you only experienced minor whiplash, puts a lot of strain on your neck. Monitor your healing closely and if you have any sudden, severe, or unusual popping or pain, speak with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Risk of stroke
Though documented cases are rare, there have been incidents of intentional neck cracking leading to stroke. This happens when the vertebral artery is torn and a blood clot forms. This blood clot can eventually loosen and travel into the brain, leading to a potentially life-threatening stroke.
Note about neck cracking
Though you are unlikely to experience any harm when your neck pops on its own, experts strongly discourage intentional neck cracking. Even though you may feel some relief, never force your neck to either side or subject it to any jerking motions. Your neck is incredibly delicate and should be treated with the utmost care. Remember, the older you are, the harder it is for your ligaments and muscles to recover from excessive neck cracking.
Once again, moving your head through a normal range of motion could help stretch out tense muscles and loosen joints, but any forceful action should be avoided.
If you often have the urge to crack your neck or feel like your spine is misaligned, it may be prudent to visit a chiropractic doctor for a professional adjustment. Ask your doctor for chiropractic recommendations and be sure to discuss neck cracking at your adjustment appointment. They may have suggestions to help you find relief at home and help you with lifestyle adjustments to keep your body in line.
What do you think of neck cracking? Let us know in the comments below!