Neck Popping: The Risks and Other Crucial Details


When your neck feels stiff, like most people, you want immediate relief. You want to ease your discomfort, especially when you experience neck pain. Therefore, it is a common reaction for most people to do something about their stiff neck or neck pain.

Most would start to twist or tilt their heads to the side and begin making neck popping or cracking sounds. And so, you may begin to wonder why the neck makes those cracking sounds. More importantly, is it something dangerous? Should you be concerned? Let’s find out. 

Neck cracking (grinding noise) happens when two structures within the cervical spine rub together and create these cracking or popping sounds. There are deposits of gas bubbles within the cervical facet joints, leading to these threatening sounds.

Crepitus: Is it Harmless?

Crepitus is considered harmless. Any time any joint in the body creates a popping, cracking, or grinding noise or sensation, it is known as crepitus. Experts believe that crepitus is due to bursting gas bubbles in the synovial fluid of the joint.

Neck crepitus or neck popping becomes triggered by the formation or collapse of tiny gas bubbles due to pressure changes within the neck joints. Therefore, in most cases, neck-cracking is nothing to worry about. 

There is one sign that a neck crack is merely the result of crepitus. Repeat the same movement that caused the cracking sound to check if it happens again. If not, then it means the noise was just crepitus. It usually takes 20 minutes before the gas bubbles form.

When Is Neck Popping Dangerous?

Neck cracking or neck popping should not hurt, and you should never have to force it. If it causes you pain, it is likely to do you more harm than good. 

Be aware that constant or forcibly cracking your neck can be bad for you. Blood vessels are abundant in your neck that may become damaged due to constant neck popping. These vessels carry blood to and away from your brain, so forceful and constant neck cracking can increase your risk of stroke by damaging these vessels.

Five Signs Your Neck Popping Is A Problem

Crepitus is generally not dangerous. However, there are some exceptions when popping or grinding in the neck can be signs of a severe problem. Let's look at these five signs of unhealthy neck cracking. 

1. If Pain Accompanies The Neck Popping

When your neck cracking comes with slight or severe pain, it can be the sign of degenerative disc disease or arthritis. If you're experiencing swelling, pain, or a grinding sensation in your neck, you should seek medical attention.

2. If It's Consistent

An odd cracking sound here and there is ok. However, if your neck makes a cracking sound every single time you move in a specific way, within seconds, that is something else. 

At that point, it's not only bubbling, as they haven't had enough time to re-form just yet. When your neck cracks almost every time you move it, it may be a sign of a restricted joint subluxation (partial dislocation or slight misalignment in the vertebrae).

3. When It Makes You Feel Weird

When your neck makes cracking or popping sounds, and you feel warmth down the side of your neck, or a little dizziness or nausea, it is dangerous. Your movements may have interfered with the function of one or more nerves.

4. If It's Post-Accident or Post-Surgery

If you recently had neck surgery or experienced an accident (even if it's a minor one), any changes in your joint health have to be checked and assessed by a doctor. The medical practitioner can see if there are significant issues or if the neck cracking is due to healing muscles pulling on the spine. It is also possible that there are subluxations after surgery.

5. When You Do It On Purpose

When you move your neck within its normal range of motion to loosen up tense muscles, it is ok. Suppose odd cracking sounds accompany that movement, which is fine. What is not ok is physically twisting or pushing your head to crack your neck (or worse, letting someone untrained do it for you). Doing this involves a high risk of severe damage to your spine and the ligaments in your neck. Please leave the neck and spinal adjustments to professionals.

Upper Cervical Care and Neck Popping

Now that you are aware of the possible dangers of popping your own neck, please leave neck popping to trained professionals. Only allow an upper cervical chiropractor to make adjustments on your neck or spine. 

Upper cervical chiropractic is a branch of chiropractic that focuses on the first bones of the upper spine or neck. The atlas (C1) and axis (C2) vertebrae have essential roles, and both have unique shapes as well. These vertebrae carry the skull and allow it a wide range of motion and flexibility. They also surround and protect the brainstem. If a misalignment occurs in the upper cervical spine, it causes a wide variety of physical and mental health problems.

Upper cervical chiropractors employ a precise and gentle approach that adjusts the misaligned bones to their proper positions in an accurate manner. There will be no neck popping, spine twisting, or cracking since our method is precise and very gentle. Thus, allowing the body to heal correctly and have lasting relief from various health issues. Numerous patients enjoyed comfort from pain and from different health symptoms that give them problems.

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The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.