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HomeHealth articlesneck crepitusWhat Is Neck Crepitus?

Neck Crepitus - Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Neck crepitus simply refers to neck sounds. A person with neck crepitus can hear it when they move their neck. Read the article to learn more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anuj Nigam

Published At June 19, 2023
Reviewed AtJune 19, 2023

Introduction

Several people could say that they hear and feel sounds in the neck while moving the neck. The type of cracking, popping, or grinding sounds in the neck. This is generally known as neck crepitus, whereas crepitus is known for the popping, grinding, or cracking sound of the joint. This crepitus can be of any cause, such as wear and tear, cartilage wear, or the aging process. The neck crepitus is not a significant concern until it is associated with pain and other distressing issues.

What Is Meant by Neck Crepitus?

Neck crepitus is known for the cracking and grinding sounds of the neck joint. Clinical studies and healthcare professionals generally describe the following mechanisms are primarily involved in the causes of neck crepitus.

  • Changes in the Synovial Fluid: Synovial fluid flows in the joint capsules responsible for lubricating and protecting the cartilage. Air bubbles in the form of gas can be formed in joint movements at some events, which are known to cause neck crack sounds. But, still, the statement does not clearly illustrate the association between the neck sound and bubbles.

  • Bone-To-Bone Grinding: Osteoarthritis is a wear and tear condition that results in the degeneration of facet joints, leading to the breakage of the smooth cartilage attached to the bone. As a consequence, the roughened surface ends of the vertebrae on adjacent aspects come in contact and rub. So, this bone-to-bone grinding can cause neck crepitus.

  • Ligament or Tendon Movements: Bone joints are attached to ligaments and tendons, which can tend to stretch and move over the bones. In aging circumstances, the elasticity is lost, resulting in the muscles and tissues tightening. So, sound may be heard during the ligament and tendon movements in older adults.

What Are the Causes of Neck Crepitus?

People could commonly encounter neck grinding and cracking while neck movements, though. Therefore, the exact cause of neck crepitus is still unclear and unknown. Nevertheless, the following range of causative factors can be attributed to the development of crepitus in the neck since one could feel the crepitus on these bases.

  • Neck arthritis conditions, particularly cervical spondylosis.

  • Loss of cartilage resulting in grinding movements of cervical vertebrae.

  • Poor postures of the head and neck.

  • Chronic degrees of muscle tension in the neck.

  • At times, the natural motion of ligaments and tendons in the neck.

  • Grinding of adjacent bones.

  • Joint damage.

  • Neck muscle stiffness.

  • Neck injury from accidents, whiplash, or trauma resulting in inflammation and stiffening.

When Does Neck Crepitus Require Medical Attention?

Neck sounds are the predominant feature of neck crepitus. The sound can be in cracking, grinding, or popping form. Generally, neck crepitus seems painless and not considered a serious condition. Neck crepitus can resolve with time. Nevertheless, one should pay attention when the symptoms are painful and are associated with other concerns. Intense degrees of neck crepitus could represent a risk of underlying medical illnesses, including cervical spine instability. Also, pain and swelling accompanied by numbness of the upper extremities could sometimes indicate osteoarthritis. So, one must seek professional help at the earliest if one encounters any or a combination of the following symptoms.

  • Neck cracks felt with every movement.

  • Injury to the neck.

  • Pain or swelling presenting inflammation.

  • Pain and discomfort while cracking, grinding, or popping of the neck.

How Is Neck Crepitus Diagnosed?

Medical professionals and specialists, such as orthopedic doctors, diagnose the condition. The diagnosis of neck crepitus and other neck concerns is based on the symptoms evaluation, physical examination, and history assessment. At times, doctors might prescribe imaging studies for neck crepitus. X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are advised in cases of chronic, recurrent, and painful forms of neck crepitus associated with other neck concerns. Specific determinants such as fractures, cartilage wear, ligament and tendon damage, and herniated discs are explicitly addressed to identify the underlying illness. In addition, neck movements are assessed with the intention of interpreting the neck sounds. So, the doctors might ask to make certain neck movements.

What Are the Treatment Options for Neck Crepitus?

The neck crepitus intervention aims to alleviate the symptoms and restore the range of motion. Also, doctors treat underlying conditions such as neck arthritis and mobility of the cervical spine if present. The treatment comprises medical and physical therapy primarily. The treatment options for neck crepitus include the following.

  • Heat Therapy: The doctors might recommend heat therapy as applying a hot pack on the neck could help relieve a certain amount of muscle tension.

  • Stretches: Stretches help relieve muscle tension in the neck. Stretches for a few days are prescribed.

  • Strengthening Exercises: These exercises are advised to restore the potential of neck muscles. Strengthening exercises on a regular basis provide sound support and stability to the neck joints.

  • Posture: Posture is addressed and improved.

Physical Therapy

The role of physiotherapy is vital in the management of neck crepitus. Trained and experienced physiotherapy professionals aid in physiotherapy management and rehabilitation. The approach’s predominant aim is restoring function and motion, even alleviating pain. Subsequently, the management addresses the following.

  • Reduces pain and discomfort concerning the neck over time.

  • Improvement in range of motion.

  • Enhancement of the function in the neck areas.

  • Diminishes joint stiffness.

  • Enhances movements without pain.

  • Enhances a sound joint-play.

  • Improvement of joint mobility and, thus, functionality.

  • Diminishes muscle spasms and muscle tension.

  • Restores optimal motion.

  • Hence, it improves the quality of life.

Conclusion

Neck crepitus is not a condition, though. Delayed recognition and diagnosis seem to be an inapparent incitement for this severe form of crepitus with underlying pathology. Therefore, it is vital to be aware of these states since early treatment is the key to preventing progression. Awareness is to be elevated means for the people to understand the term and its consequences.

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Dr. Anuj Nigam
Dr. Anuj Nigam

Orthopedician and Traumatology

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