Osteopathy, Sports massage

Neck Cracking and Grinding: What is it and Why does it happen?

Many people experience a sensation of cracking, popping, snapping or grinding during neck movements, especially when turning your head to reverse the car or checking your blind spot.

The medical term for these sensations is known as ‘crepitus’ and although crepitus can occur at any age it becomes more common as we get older.

Crepitus can occur in any joint but the most common sites are the neck, shoulders and knees.

Neck Anatomy

Spine Labelled 2

There are small joints known as facet joints between two adjacent vertebrae. These joints are covered by a smooth protective cartilage and inside the joint is synovial fluid which acts as a lubricant. Their role is to guide and limit movement between each vertebrae.

Between each vertebral body (excluding the top two neck segments and sacrum) there is an intervertebral disc which acts as a shock absorber.

Causes of neck crepitus:

  • Joint pressure changes

Tiny gas bubbles can form within synovial joints and as the joint moves, decreased intra-articular pressure allows the gas bubbles to escape/release creating a popping sound. This is the same sound heard when cracking your knuckles or during a joint manipulation and is not harmful.

  • Ligament or tendon moving around bone

There are many ligaments and tendons attached to the bones of the neck. Sometimes these can slide past each other or around a bone, making a snapping sound. This can occur when your muscles and tissues are tight or have lost some elasticity due to the aging process.

  • Osteoarthritis

As we get older the height of our intervertebral discs decreases. This brings the surfaces of the facet joints closer together and can cause the articular cartilage to rub against each other and wear down. This can cause a grinding noise or sensation in the neck.

Any one or a combination of these factors can cause neck crepitus.

Usually neck crepitus is painless and typically doesn’t represent anything serious. However, if you are experiencing troublesome symptoms such as pain or problems following trauma, it could indicate a more serious underlying medical condition.

If experiencing any of the following symptoms you are advised to consult a health professional:

  • Pain
  • Headaches
  • Numbness or pins and needles n the arm or hand
  • Loss of strength in the upper limb or hand
  • If neck crepitus is a new symptom following injury



Treatment for crepitus will depend on the cause. Osteopathy can be extremely beneficial in the treatment of tight muscles and arthritis. It involves a combination of soft tissue massage, mobilisations, joint manipulations, muscle stretching, postural assessment, advice and exercise prescription.This can help to reduce muscular tightness or spasms, increase joint mobility and improve posture to reduce the stress on the neck.


If you have any questions do get in touch.

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