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Crepitus in the neck: Causes, symptoms and how PT can help

Crepitus in the Neck
3 minutes, 36 seconds

Neck crepitus can be described as sounds coming from your neck when you move it. These sounds often occur when any of the following parts within the neck moves: bones, ligaments, joints or tendons. 

Some of the most common sounds that are associated with this condition include popping, grinding, clicking and snapping. The type of sound you hear can help you determine what the cause of your neck crepitus is most likely to be. For example, grinding noises are often tied to worn-down cartilage causing bone to rub on bone. Cracks and pops are more likely to be due to air or gas bubbles in joints that pop from sudden movements. But these are far from the only underlying causes of neck crepitus, and a physical therapist can help you discover more of the underlying causes of this issue and much more.

What are some root causes of crepitus in the neck?

It is believed to be caused by a variety of things. Crepitus in the neck could be due to: 

  • Neck osteoarthritis (especially in older people).
  • Gas or air bubbles inside the joints releasing as the joints move.
  • Poor head and neck posture. 
  • Chronic muscle tension.
  • The natural movement of neck ligaments and tendons.
  • Herniated cervical discs. 

In some severe cases, crepitus in the neck may be a symptom of a more extreme condition. Often, this form of crepitus occurs after an impact to the neck or severe neck trauma such as that sustained in a car accident. 

In such cases, it may indicate that air has moved into the soft tissue of the neck. It should be one of the symptoms that prompts an immediate evaluation for injury to the trachea, esophagus or lungs by a doctor.

When should you seek help?

It may be time to seek out professional care if you experience any of the following:

  • Injury to the neck.
  • Cracking in the neck every time you move.
  • Inflammation in the neck causing swelling or pain.
  • Pain or discomfort when you hear the cracking, popping, etc.

How can physical therapy help crepitus in the neck?

Physical therapy is a great option for treating minor to moderate neck crepitus. A physical therapist can examine your shoulders, neck and head to determine the root cause of the crepitus. Then, they’ll build you a personalized treatment plan designed to address that root cause. A few examples of physical therapy treatments your physical therapist may use for neck crepitus include:

  • Soft tissue mobilization — If the cause of your neck crepitus is determined to be because of muscle tightness, then this treatment may be a cornerstone of your treatment plan. Soft tissue mobilization involves your physical therapist using their hands to apply targeted, massagelike movements to your neck. These movements are intended to reduce tension in the neck muscles that may be contributing to your condition.
  • Strength and flexibility training — Your physical therapist will likely opt for a treatment course that improves upon the strength and flexibility in your neck. By conditioning your neck to be stronger and more flexible, you could lessen your neck popping along with any pain that may be accompanying it. 
  • Posture-correcting exercises — Oftentimes, poor posture is to blame for neck conditions and symptoms. In physical therapy, patients can be taught ways to improve their posture long-term, which can ultimately alleviate crepitus symptoms.
  • Ergonomics recommendations — Things in your everyday life can also be contributing to your neck issues. For instance, an non-ergonomic desk chair could be making it easier for you to tilt your head and neck forward. This position puts a lot more strain on your neck, and it can lead to crepitus, pain, tension and other symptoms. Your physical therapist can help you evaluate the ergonomics of your home and work surroundings. They can then make recommendations about ergonomic improvements you can make, which may help ease neck symptoms. 

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch PT for crepitus and other neck-based symptoms

Regularly hearing popping, cracking or grinding sounds from your neck? You don’t have to wait to check it out. You can turn to a physical therapist for help assessing and addressing your neck symptoms.

At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help you get the high-quality PT you need. 

Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address root causes of minor to moderate neck crepitus. 

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Contact our team today so we can help you find the most effective physical therapy services for your neck

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