People may notice a slight popping or cracking sound when moving their neck. Often, the sound occurs due to the movement of air trapped within the fluid of the joints.
It may also occur due to slight changes in how the ligaments or tendons move. However, if swelling or pain accompanies it, the noises could indicate an underlying health condition.
In this article, we will discuss some possible causes of neck crunching sounds and when a person may consider contacting a doctor.
There are several potential causes of neck noises. Some of them are benign, and others may require treatment.
A popping, cracking, or crunching sound in the neck or other joints is not necessarily a sign that anything is wrong. It is a common occurrence, even in younger people with no history of joint damage or injury.
Two common benign causes include air escaping from the synovial fluid that surrounds and lubricates the joints, and tight ligaments snapping off of one bone and onto another.
Typically, a person does not need to do anything to address noises their neck makes during movement unless it causes pain or swelling.
Joint damage or injury
An injury can lead to degeneration and damage to the joints in the neck. Several things can cause neck injuries, such as car accidents, falls, or impact during sports.
When a person injures their neck, they may experience symptoms that include:
- shoulder or arm pain
- neck stiffness
- facial pain
A person will likely know if they injured their neck in an accident. However, if they have any doubts, they should consider consulting a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
In addition to pain and stiffness in the neck, arthritis can cause grinding or clicking noises when moving the neck.
Over time, poor posture can lead to wear and tear or damage to the neck. When this occurs, a person may experience pain in their neck, arms, head, or shoulders. Additionally, they may experience stiffness and clicking or popping noises when moving their neck.
To diagnose neck noises, a person will need to consult a medical professional. A doctor will likely begin by reviewing a person’s medical history and performing a physical examination. This will include taking a person’s vital signs and reviewing symptoms. A doctor will also assess range of motion and pain or discomfort when moving the neck.
In addition, they may request some tests to examine the structures in the neck or assess the function of these structures to help establish a diagnosis. These tests may include:
- computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan)
- electromyography (EMG)
- nerve conduction studies (NCS)
- selective nerve root block
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of a person’s symptoms. However, doctors will likely start with conservative treatments to help relieve symptoms. These can include:
- performing physical therapy
- wearing a cervical collar
- taking prescription medications, such as muscle relaxants or pain relievers
- taking over-the-counter medications for pain and inflammation
- receiving steroid injections
- taking steps to correct posture when walking, standing, sitting, and sleeping
In some cases, a doctor may recommend strength training exercises to help alleviate pain and stiffness. Strength training exercises can also help stretch the neck. Some examples include:
- tilting the head from side to side by lowering the ear to the shoulder and back to a normal resting position, and repeating 5 times on each side
- turning the head from side to side, looking over the shoulder, and repeating 5 times on each side
- dropping the head forward so the chin reaches toward the chest and raising the head back up, and repeating 5 times
Click here to learn more about exercises for neck pain.
Some other strategies to alleviate neck popping and other symptoms can include:
- hot or cold therapy
- acupuncture or pressure therapy
- chiropractic adjustments
- posture-correcting devices, such as pillows or cushions
A person may not need to contact a medical professional if they hear a popping or cracking sound with no other symptoms. In these cases, the popping likely occurs due to air escaping or tight ligaments snapping on the bones as they move.
If pain, stiffness, swelling, or other symptoms accompany the noises, a person should consider consulting a doctor. They can examine and determine the cause and help provide treatment as necessary. A person should seek emergency care if they experience blunt force trauma resulting in injury, such as impact when playing a sport or during a car accident.
Hearing crunching noises from the neck during movement may not always require medical attention. These sounds can often occur due to air escaping the fluid surrounding the joints or from tight tendons rubbing or snapping against the bones. If the noise does not accompany other symptoms, a person likely does not need to do anything specifically to address the noise.
However, if pain, stiffness, or other symptoms occur, a person should consider contacting a doctor. They can help diagnose the cause and recommend treatments for any underlying condition. Treatment options often involve strength training, pain relievers, and posture correction.