Why Does My Neck Crack When I Roll It?

Oct 11, 2021

When you feel a bit stiff or sore, many people’s instinct is to roll their neck. This stretching can feel great and relieve minor pain, but it may sometimes cause odd sounds. Similar to cracking your knuckles, you may hear a “popping” noise as a result of rolling your neck. This can be concerning and may have you wondering if you need to seek neck pain treatment in Atlanta. The good news is that this is usually normal and nothing to worry about, but you should still use caution when rolling the neck.

What Is Cavitation?

The medical term for these cracking sounds is cavitation, which occurs when there is a release of oxygen that has accumulated between the joints and ligaments. This often brings relief as it improves the range of motion, especially in the neck.

More technically, cavitation is when gas bubbles in the synovial fluid escape from a tight space. This fluid is a lubricant, sort of like grease applied to metal gears, that allows for smooth operation without friction. Synovial fluid contains carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen and can be found in our joints, including the joints that run along each side of the neck.

These joints can be thought of as capsules. When they bubble up with oxygen molecules, it constrains the range of motion in the joints. Rolling your neck releases these bubbles, which may sound like a popping or cracking, and returns the range of motion to your neck.

Problems That Could Cause Cracking

While this is usually a normal process and nothing to worry about, there are certain conditions that can cause neck cracking.

If you suffer from chronic arthritis, you may notice these sounds are much more common and happen more often. Without arthritis, it takes time for the bubbles to pressure up before they will make a sound. With arthritis, cartilage tissue quickly loses its quality, leaving it rough and more likely to make noises during certain movements. The popping may not result in relief or an improved range of motion.

These sounds can also be related to snapping ligaments. Ligaments and tendons are the connective tissue that links joints to bones. This tissue can tighten and snap, which may cause you to feel a displacement or realignment, accompanied by a popping sound. Certain movements can cause this to happen, though it’s usually not uncomfortable.

Is it Safe to Crack My Neck?

If your neck hurts when it cracks, this is a sign that something may not be normal. Cavitation is not associated with pain, so it’s likely that the sound is related to some sort of dysfunction.
Some cases when you should seek neck pain treatment in Atlanta include:

  • You feel constant pressure in your neck after a car accident, which is usually related to cervical strain
  • Your neck feels swollen when you roll it. This swelling may not be visible, but swelling can be a sign of many neck issues
  • The sound is persistent, occurring each time your neck hits a particular position. This is not normal cavitation.

How a Chiropractor Can Help With Neck Pain

If you notice any of the problems above, it’s possible you have a misalignment in your neck joints. You may find that cracking your neck doesn’t bring relief or increase your mobility, which is a sign that there is a deeper problem that may require chiropractic care.

A chiropractor will manipulate the joints in your neck and upper spine to return them to alignment. Some people believe that rolling your neck can have the same effect, but this is not true and can, in some cases, make the problem worse as you overexert your ligaments and muscle tissue, worsening the misalignment.

During an adjustment, you may or may not hear a similar popping sound. This won’t indicate whether it is working as they are putting your joints back in place, not releasing the oxygen bubbles. Along with rotating your neck and repositioning the cervical spine, your chiropractor may recommend stretches and exercises to reduce this buildup of oxygen bubbles in your facet joints.

You may also be asked to discuss habits and physical activities that may impact your neck. A chiropractor’s goal will be to address the root cause of your neck pain, rather than the cracking sound itself.

If you worry about your neck’s cracking sounds, contact AICA Atlanta chiropractor today to meet with a chiropractor and schedule your first adjustment.