Is Crepitus a Sign of a Serious Neck Problem?

Is Crepitus a Sign of a Serious Neck Problem?

Crepitus is another word for joint noises and “crunching” sensations in a joint — a relatively common experience for many people, especially as they get older. Most people think of joint noises happening in major joints, like the knee or elbow, but the fact is that creaks and clicks can happen in any joint — even in your neck.

If you’re noticing crepitus in your neck, you may wonder if something serious is happening with your spine. At his practice in San Leandro, California, Kenneth I. Light, MD, treats neck pain and uses advanced diagnostic techniques to determine the cause of neck noises and other symptoms so each patient gets the most appropriate care.

Why crepitus happens

Although creaking and popping in a joint sound scary, most joint noises are usually nothing to worry about. In fact, one of the most common causes of crepitus — gas bubble formation — is benign. Other times, however, neck noises are a sign of underlying damage.

Gas bubbles

Sometimes, nitrogen bubbles form inside your joints. When you move the joint, the bubbles burst, making a popping sound. These bubbles aren’t harmful, and they’re nothing to worry about. However, if the popping is accompanied by pain, it could be a more serious problem.

Tendon or ligament movement

If your tendons or ligaments are stiff or inflamed, they may make a snapping noise if you bend, twist, or stretch your neck. These noises happen when the tendon suddenly changes position or “snaps” into place when you move your neck.


Arthritis causes the joint cartilage to wear away, increasing friction inside the joint. As the cartilage erodes, the bones that make up your neck joints rub together. Sometimes, this movement causes neck noises in addition to pain or stiffness.

Disc damage

Between each pair of neck bones is a spongy disc that provides protection and shock absorption for your spine. If a disc is herniated or damaged in another way, your neck movement can be affected, and you may hear crunching or clicking noises when you bend or twist your neck.

Pay attention to your neck noises

Crepitus on its own may not be a serious problem. But there are some times when neck noises indicate an underlying medical problem, like arthritis, bone or cartilage damage, or another neck injury or disease.

If those crackling, snapping noises happen with every movement or if they’re accompanied by pain or other symptoms — such as neck stiffness, swelling, chronic headaches, or reduced range of motion — they could indicate an underlying problem that needs medical care.

As a top orthopedic spine surgeon in the greater Oakland area, Dr. Light is skilled in diagnosing the cause of crepitus and treating underlying medical issues to keep your neck healthy. If you have crepitus with or without other symptoms, call 415-673-4500 or book an appointment online to learn how Dr. Light can help.

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