In general, neck cracking most likely does not indicate a problem. However, a doctor should be consulted if neck cracking accompanies any of the following:
- Pain or swelling. Neck crepitus with pain or swelling could indicate osteoarthritis or some other type of inflammatory process in the joints of the neck.
- Recent accident or injury. If the neck is making new cracking or grinding sounds after trauma, such as a car accident or a fall, then that could indicate a structural change that needs to be addressed by a qualified health professional.
- Frequent or constant. If the neck crepitus is constant, such as if that sound can be recreated every time or nearly every time the joint is moved, then that could signal a problem in joint function, especially when accompanied by pain.
- Recent surgery. Sometimes new neck sounds develop after surgery in the cervical spine. These sounds might show up weeks later, and while they could be normal and nothing to worry about, they should be mentioned to the surgeon just in case.
Can Neck Cracking Cause More Serious Problems?
Some people regularly crack their neck on purpose—either due to a nervous habit or perhaps to bring some therapeutic relief from neck tightness. As such, it’s common for people to wonder whether repeatedly cracking the neck can wear down the joints and cause arthritis.
The medical literature indicates that repeatedly cracking the neck, or any of the synovial joints throughout the body, does not increase a person’s risk for developing arthritis in those joints. However, some studies indicate other negative effects, such as loosened ligaments, could potentially result.
In This Article:
- Neck Cracking and Grinding: What Does It Mean?
- When Neck Cracking Needs Medical Attention
While quite rare, and at the time of this article inconclusive, there are reports of vertebral artery dissection resulting in a stroke after certain types of manipulation of the cervical spine. There is debate if the vertebral artery damage is equally likely to occur if the patient seeks treatment for a health care professional who does not practice spinal manipulation. A review of the medical literature indicates that spinal manipulation of the neck does not appreciably strain, sprain, or stretch the vertebral artery.4,5,6,7,8
As a standard precaution, anyone experiencing concerning symptoms such as pain, dizziness, lightheadedness, numbness, tingling, or other troubling symptoms not listed here, should consult a qualified health professional immediately.
The bottom line is that for most people the possible downsides of daily neck cracking appear to be minimal; however, the process is still not fully understood and continues to be studied by science.
- Cassidy JD, Boyle E, Cote P, et al. Risk of vertebrobasilar stroke and chiropractic care – results of a population-based case-control and case crossover study. Spine. 2008;33:S176-83.
- Symons B, Herzog W. Cervical artery dissection: a biomechanical perspective. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2013 Dec;57(4):276–8.
- Haynes MJ, Vincent K. Vertebral strains during high speed, low amplitude cervical spinal manipulation. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2012 Dec;22(6):1017–8. doi: 10.1016/j.jelekin.2012.08.002
- Herzog W, Leonard TR, Symons B, Tang C, Wuest S. Vertebral artery strains during high-speed, low amplitude cervical spinal manipulation. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2012 Oct;22(5):740–6. doi: 10.1016/j.jelekin.2012.03.005
- Symons B, Wuest S, Leonard T, Herzog W. Biomechanical characterization of cervical spinal manipulation in living subjects and cadavers. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2012;22(5):747-51. doi: 10.1016/j.jelekin.2012.02.004
- Wuest S, Symons B, Leonard T, Herzog W. Preliminary report: biomechanics of vertebral artery segments C1-C6 during cervical spinal manipulation. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2010 ed. 2010 May;33(4):273–8. doi: 10.1016/j.jmpt.2010.03.007