ask: What causes a clicking sound in the neck?

By Michelle King Robson Expert HERWriter September 20, 2009 - 9:58pm
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Hi everyone,

I was having lunch today with a good friend of mine and she was telling me how she's been having this really weird clicking sound in her neck that she notices when she turns her head from side to side.

I asked her more about it and she said as far as she can tell she is the only one who can hear it, it came on suddenly, and she does not have pain or numbness or anything.

She spends a lot of time on the computer and I'm voting for poor posture contributing to a neck issue of some type. She said that lately when she kind of rolls her head around she can make her neck kind of do a popping thing. She said she's also under a lot of stress lately so she's wondering if that's part of it.

Does anyone else here have a clicking neck when you turn your head? If so, did it go away on its own or did you need to see a doctor and or a chiropractor? I want to try to help my friend if we can. Thanks everyone! Michelle

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Dear All,

My neck started clicking/popping about 5 months ago. It occurred spontaneously while I was sitting on the sofa, resting on my elbows. I remember tilting my neck backwards and shifting it to the right. I then heard a distinct cracking sound coming from the base of my skull. I got up and noticed that the clicking/popping sound persisted every time I turned my head to the right (2 clicks), whenever I tilted my head to the left (1 click), and sometimes during flexion & extension. The sounds were never accompanied by symptoms involving pain, numbness, compression, dizziness, etc. and did not account for the particular body posture adopted (standing/sitting). The clicking/popping sounds were typically very loud and, as such, they could easily be heard by people around me.

Shortly after the triggering event, I did:

- take a standard MRI scan (no abnormalities detected);

- see 12 doctors who rushed into forwarding all types of diagnoses (ligament laxity vs. C1-C2 subluxation vs. facet joint hypermobility, etc.) and remedies (complete rest & wearing a soft cervical collar vs. little exercising vs. lots of exercising);

- take a full blood test (all normal);

- start taking muscle relaxers & anti-inflammatories for 10 days’ time (no changes);

- start taking Calcium & Magnesium supplements;

- use different creams aimed at treating muscle-related problems (no improvements);

- go to several massage therapists (no results over 5 sessions);

- see 2 chiropractors (3 visits, no results);

- start walking for at least an hour’s time every day;

- try different stretching techniques independently (clicking/popping became louder after each attempt). Furthermore, I noticed that the clicking/popping sounds occurred even when I was moving my arms alongside my body (e.g. drawing circles or semicircles) while maintaining a neutral posture (looking straight).

The very fact that I couldn’t make the clicking/popping go away affected me tremendously. I had trouble accommodating a normal diet into my daily schedule. I experienced serious weight loss due to poor appetite. Nevertheless, I had trouble maintaining an emotional equilibrium. I felt scared and I felt distressed. I refused seeing a psychologist because I wasn’t looking at ways to accommodate change. Simply put: I was determined to treat the cause, not the effect(s). The clicking/popping was highly disconcerting and I knew for sure that if I could make it go away, I would be able to put my life back on the right track.

I wanted to address the underlying cause & acknowledged the fact that it would be a difficult task. While doctors failed to agree upon a common denominator (different potential diagnoses were passed on), I possessed little anatomy-related knowledge to decide whose opinion to value and who was off the track. As such, I decided to work on it myself and take it from scratch. Browsing through different health forums, anatomy course books & medical journals helped me put together a solid bunch of sensible information. Having reached a better understanding of the head-neck-back mechanism, I then moved to decrypting radiological patterns aimed at diagnosing spinal malfunctions. On the one hand, this helped me interpret my MRI; on the other hand, it taught me about the pitfalls of a standard MRI scan - in the sense that it provides limited information. I knew a CT scan would help validate/invalidate atlantoaxial subluxation-related scenarios (anterior/posterior/rotatory displacements), but I decided to keep this as a final option. Instead, I chose to go for an Upright MRI scan covering the alar ligaments, dens axis & atlas, neutral position, lateral rotations & bendings.

I ‘felt' that my problem was actually driven by a muscular imbalance rather than a dysfunction involving the cervical vertebrae/ligaments/facet joints. However, I couldn’t rely on my intuition or on somebody else’s speculations. I needed scientific evidence to stress the actual issue.

The main inconvenience consisted of the fact that I had to wait for 2 weeks in order to complete the scan, so I thought I’d do carry on with my research in the meanwhile. I came across several articles discussing muscular imbalances, including underlying causes & treatment options. I learned that ‘muscle knots’ cannot always be released through self-manipulation exercises (e.g. workouts in the gym), through massages or through muscle relaxants. I read about the Trigger Point Therapy & how this can help restore full muscle functionality. I also came across several health forums depicting the results of something called the 'Bowen technique' and the wide span of issues which it claims to address. I have to say I was very skeptical about the lack of proof documenting the use of the technique, but I thought I would still give it a go. I felt safe because I still had acupuncture & Trigger Point Therapy to try next, should Bowen therapy had failed me.

I scheduled an appointment with a Bowen therapist & I have to admit I didn’t feel much improvement once the session was over. The only notable change comprised of the fact that I felt my body lighter than usual. The therapist explained that the adjustments she made were designed to work towards resetting my nervous system - which was ultimately expected to generate new input to help support my body’s healing ability. She also explained that I might need several such sessions to reach some tangible results. I experienced no additional changes that day, nor over the next few days. So I called it quits. To a certain extent, I admit that my decision was somewhat unreasonable, but I wasn’t mentally prepared to wait for a long time (Bowen therapy sessions are usually performed once a week/once every 2 weeks) in order to experience another ‘failure'.

6 days later, I was taking a walk near the lake with my mom & her friend. When I left the car, the clicking/popping sound was so loud that I started crying. I was feeling sad and helpless. On the way back, I remember I turned my head right to look at the swans. My neck didn’t click. I repeated the motion 5 times in a row and that is when I realised that the nightmare was over for good. My neck clicking/popping suddenly stopped. I couldn’t stand up straight because I knew that God made it go away. We were all stunned at what happened there. The neck clicking/popping disappeared spontaneously and hasn’t come back since :)

I decided to post this in an attempt to support those of you who are struggling with this condition. Most importantly, I did it to emphasise the idea that there is HOPE, irrespective of what doctors/therapists might tell you. Don’t let them get away with their ‘good to go’ diagnoses - ask them to substantiate their findings through evidence. Ultimately, do not let them mix hypotheses/speculations with facts. Focus on identifying the inconsistencies & address the gaps accordingly.

Sorry for taking the liberty of being over-descriptive. I tried my best to incapsulate my end-to-end experience, hoping it would be of good help to others. I’ll never know what exactly happened with my neck, but considering the outcome, I believe it had to do with a muscular imbalance involving either of the sternocleidomastoid/trapezius/suboccipital muscle(s). However, facts are facts: I’ll never know for sure.

Lastly, I’d like to express my gratitude to KittyKat82 - who took the time & patience to share her experience & answer my questions. Thank you!

September 29, 2015 - 9:42am
EmpowHER Guest

Is it bad if it hurts when my neck clicks also I have always struggled with neck pain and lately it even hurts when I move my head quickly also my shoulder hurts aswell

April 25, 2015 - 1:53pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Also it hurts when I touch my neck and I'm 19 years old but I have struggled with neck pain since I was 16

April 25, 2015 - 2:05pm
EmpowHER Guest

From Saturday I woke up with a bad headache and noticed when I move my head side to side it cracks. I am quite strange normally though and daily crack my fingers, toes, neck, back and chest - I know its disgusting but its got to be done! Anyways woke up Saturday with a banging head and since then when I turn my head slightly to each side it makes a cracking noise and it is driving me crazy, not painful though just irritating. I work at a GP surgery so I casually asked one of the doctors yesterday and he basically said there is nothing you can do its nothing serious it could carry on or stop. It is very annoying though so I am hoping its the latter :-(

March 31, 2015 - 1:40am
EmpowHER Guest

My neck cracks constantly when I use my computer. I think it is caused by changing computers - I went from a Mac desktop to a laptop, which is much lower so I hold my head differently after 7 years. I don't worry about it. Don't you either. This is not really a serious health problem.

March 16, 2015 - 12:10am
EmpowHER Guest

I've had this for a couple weeks now. And I can even hear it whenever I take a deep breath... a small click in my neck. This is extremely aggravating when I try to sleep at night. As soon as I feel myself dozing off I hear this click inside my neck when I breathe out. I hope I don't have to live like this forever.. oh my god.. it would be unbearable.. There is no pain... just very annoying esp. when i'm trying to fall asleep, and I can hear it every two seconds when I breathe. I was almost thinking of trying acupuncture. I'm not sure what I should do. If anyone has ideas of certain stretches or exercises i'd appreciate any help! Thanks!

February 5, 2015 - 4:10pm
EmpowHER Guest

hello friends .
iv read and look alot at the internet how i can cure my neck after he poping and cracking more then 3 monthes - at almost every movement that im doing.
please do follow those yoga exersices 3 times a day exacly like this guy at the video does ( dont forget to seat like him and breath like him) and you will improoved very fast and your sound poping will appear almost totally like i am after i made those exersices.
buy the way i recommend on his videos for more several healthy issues problems especialy at the spine and joints. take care!

January 20, 2015 - 4:46pm

My neck would crack every single time I turned my head for the last 4 months. 3 times when I look to the left and once to the right. I tried everything and it would never even improve. About a month ago, I went to a chiropractor and his adjustment didn't help at all but he told me everything is just so tight. All everyone I would see would tell me to strengthen my muscles and his comment got me thinking that maybe I shortened my tendons because I was always stressing with my shoulders up to my ears so for the last month I've been stretching my neck every wich way (mostly straight down while pulling to get more of a stretch on the back of my head) and in the first 24 hours it stopped cracking or clicking to the right and to the left it was only cracking once!! I was so happy but the one click to the left was still driving me crazy!! Yesterday my cracking stopped all together!!! The only reason I can think of is I started stretching my arm straight across me while grabbing it with my other arm and it really hit my back where I'm really tight, I think that stretched out the last tight tendon. My doctor said I would always have the cracking but I'm happy to say he was wrong! BTW the cracking sound in my neck was so loud everyone around me could hear it and cringe, so embarrassing!!

January 11, 2015 - 9:41pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to KittyKat82)

I still have the cracking but i have been taking gnc tri-flex (it has 900MG of msm in it) and all the tightness that i have had for the last 4 years has finally went away. MSM is a anti inflammatory but unlike things like ibuprofen that is not safe to take every day, MSM is safe to take every day

anyway make sure you get at least 900mg, i tried cheaper version like equates joint formula but the msm dose is to low to do anything. ostio-flex did a better job but gnc tri-flex has worked the best, if your tension is caused by inflammation you will fell better in less then a week on triflex (make sure you get the one with 900mg of msm)

March 28, 2015 - 12:15am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

My neck is going through something, I'm not sure if it's because I walk so much or if it's a posture problem. I don't slouch though that I'm aware of and I walk upright. It's almost a burning sensation along with the pain after I've walked for a while-- especially if I'm carrying something. When moving left to right and turning side to side in an attempt to massage it, I hear and feel a clicking or popping coming from where the pain is. What is going on?! Lol... bvs. Should I see a chiropractor or a doctor?

June 8, 2015 - 1:34am
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