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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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EmpowHER Guest

Am 17 now... I have been having this popping sound around my neck ever since I have been 13..most doctors I've been to have told me it is to do with posture, its been over 4 years now and I've been suffering from a severe neck pain and stifness since 4 years and no relief.. ( its popping sound accompanied with pain) and now even my shoulders have started popping. plz help me with what I need to be doing

May 3, 2016 - 10:33pm
Susan Cody HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Hi Anon

I think it's a good idea to see a chiropractor - we cannot say what this issue may be. Chiropractic care can really help.

May 4, 2016 - 1:07pm
EmpowHER Guest

My neck started clicking and eventually the grinding went to my head. It grinds when I yawn or chew my food. I thought perhaps it was the result of sleeping on my stomach and grinding my teeth in my sleep. Will keep reading comments and maybe find a solution some day. Thanks everyone.

May 3, 2016 - 6:34pm
EmpowHER Guest

A ‘clicking neck’ is a clearly audible sound caused by either turning (rotation) or tilting (lateral flexion) of the head. In most cases, the clicking sound is a result of tight neck muscles causing the vertebrae to rub against each other during certain movements. While there may be no other symptoms present apart from a clicking neck sound, with time the persistent muscle spasm will lead to headaches, neck or upper back pain. In most cases of a clicking neck, ‘cracking’ the joints (medical term ~ articular release) usually resolves the clicking noise and eases tightness of the joint.

April 5, 2016 - 12:41pm

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
Anonymous (reply to MarySpencer)

My neck only started clicking this evening pretty much at random a few hours ago and I read most of the comments on this little forum here in order to learn more about it and find out whether I should be extremely concerned or just be patient enough to wait it out and see if the problem corrects itself, and all I have to say is about one comment, and it's this: You have us practically your life story on how you SURVIVED the Oh-so-LIFE-CHANGING TRAUMA of a neck-clicking issue like it was a form of cancer you found out you had a month left to live because of, or like it was the beubonic plague, while giving us no real useful information, just to ultimately chalk it up to your imaginary friend/invisible sky daddy?! Are you bloody serious? Get the hell outta here with that nonsense, for real!

June 12, 2016 - 1:30am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to MarySpencer)

THATS CRAZY! My neck literally does the exact same thing! Once when i look left and two to three when i look right!

June 2, 2016 - 3:37pm
jamestan (reply to MarySpencer)

Hi Mary
I have a rather unfortunate encounter with a chiroprator. That was a first time i meet a chiroprator. He did a neck adjustment for me, and after that adjustment, i hear clicking sound when i turn my head to the left. Before that 'adjustment', there was no clicking sound. Just like you, the clicking sound that come every single time i turn my head to the left annoy and sadden me. I went back to that chiroprator to tell him about my new situation, he did another adjustment hoping to correct the problem. But sadly, the clicking sounds still remain. When i read your story, i see a glimmer of hope that the problem might be able to fix, since u have fixed it. Can you offer any suggestion what i might do to get rid of the clicking sound?


April 2, 2016 - 8:38pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to MarySpencer)

I have been going through the process for a couple of week and have become concerned. I have moved my pillows because I realized I was using too many pillows while sleeping but the clicking did to go away. I think it is stress what is causing this and thinking about it does not help. Before going to the doctor, I will continue adjusting my pillows and will begin exercise movement of my head. I still need to consider the fact that my bathroom television is now on the wall and it may be too low. I use television to sleep (to stop overall thinking) and this keeps my head in certain position. Maybe the high of the television on the wall may be causing the problem. However, when I sit to watch TV, I used the pillow to allow e sit and watch, causing to strain my neck. I movement of pillows and exercise does not work, I will continue with the doctor. And, yes, lets give it time and trust in God

March 8, 2016 - 6:17am
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
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