Neck Anatomy Involved in Cracking Sounds
The facet joints in the neck are where the back of adjacent vertebrae join together. There is a smooth surface on the end of each bone called cartilage. Inside the facet joint is synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints. At the front of the adjacent vertebrae is another connection called the intervertebral disc space. Neck crepitus is thought to occur when structures in the spine rub together and make sounds.
Some likely causes of neck crepitus include:
Neck crepitus could be caused by any of these factors, or in some cases it could be a combination of these or other factors. It should also be noted that crepitus can occur in any moveable joint in the body (with common examples including the knees and shoulders).
How Neck Crepitus Feels
While neck crepitus is commonly painless, it can also be accompanied by various degrees of neck stiffness or neck pain, ranging from dull aches to sharp pains.
People who have some degree of pain with neck crepitus may be at a higher risk for having negative thoughts and stress associated with their neck’s cracking and grinding sounds. These negative thoughts might cause people to unnecessarily alter behaviors or worry that the neck has serious structural damage even when it does not. A study that looked at people with painful knee crepitus found that the participants had more worries that their knee-cracking sounds indicated premature aging, and they were also more likely to try to modify movements to avoid making the sounds. Similar results might hold true for people with neck pain and crepitus.
The Course of Neck Crepitus
When Neck Crepitus Is Serious
If neck cracking or grinding is accompanied by pain, stiffness, or other concerning symptoms, it may indicate an underlying medical condition that needs to be checked by a qualified health professional.
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