Saturday, February 16, 2013

Why Does My Neck Crack?

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One question I get asked most often a few days after a massage, is why is my neck or back cracking so much when I move?

The answer is pretty simple.  The short answer is that it happens as we age.  It doesn't have to, but in the US the average diet, lifestyle and poor body mechanics make this a common sign of aging.

More often than not, when someone comes to see me they are overly tight and many of the micro joints in their neck, back, shoulder girdle and jaw are not able to move.  The longer this is allowed to go on, the more it can severely limit lymphatic flow which can set off a chain reaction of chronic pain and serious illness.

In the course of a massage treatment I introduce the process of unwinding patterned tightness and draining the lymphatic system.  At this point the joints are often ready to move back into place with some stretching or gentle compressions.  If my client comes in with an already limited amount of fluid in their joints from age, then this process is almost always accompanied by cracking.

The most common reason that clients may not have been experiencing the cracking before they come in for a session, is because their body is too locked down on the joints for them to move.

In the US almost everyone over 30 has some of the cracking sounds, also known as crepitus, that gets worse with age.  If you have less fluid in your joints and you don't crack when you move, you are probably much too tight.  My regular clients crack regularly, because they have good mobility due to the massages they receive. As long as the cracking is not accompanied by pain this is perfectly normal.

It is important to note that back, neck and shoulder cracks that are painful are a different story and should be investigated.

Your spine, neck and rib cage are made up of multiple joints that make it possible to turn, hunch, hug, rotate and do all kinds of motions.  There are 3 main types of joints:  fibrous (fixed), cartilaginous (stiff but flexible) and synovial (sacks of fluid.)  In the spine for instance, the discs between each vertebrae are synovial and the little knobby things are cartilaginous.

It would fill a very thick text book to go into all the locations and types of joints you have in your body.  Suffice it to say, that any place that you can move, includes a joint.  There are many micro joints that most people are unaware of.  Some of these are in the front and back of your ribs and all through your neck and jaw.

There is not yet a good understanding of how these joints receive nutrients but in young healthy people up to 80% of the cartilage and almost all of the synovial fluid is water.  When joints are out of place or when you are "holding" in an area of your body you are limiting crucial access of both water and oxygen that your muscles and joints need.  Over time these joints, which are in almost constant motion, begin to loose fluid and elasticity which causes the movement to be hard.  The two bones move against each other and as they move in to position they crack.

Early in life, if you were born healthy, most of your joints were fairly quiet even when they were in constant motion. As you age and allow your muscles to develop chronic over- tightness your joints start to loose their elasticity. The joints then start to snap, crackle and pop and these sounds get louder as your joints become more and more dehydrated

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Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor nor do I play one on the internet.  This should article should not be a replacement for professional medical care.

Copyright © Essential Stillpoint 2013


  1. If you have really been sustaining chronic pain, and you are tired of taking prescription pain relievers, you may wish to look into some alternative treatments for discomfort relief such as massage treatment. Some individuals still believe that massage is a luxury item that is only for rich people. This could not be further from the fact. Receiving regular massage treatment treatments is incredibly valuable to your overall wellness.

  2. I had a deep tissue neck massage 8 days ago & I've had a cracking sound in my neck when I turn my head from side to side , ever since that wasn't present before this it normal for the cracking to last that long? The massage was given by a physical therapist who tells me this is normal but the sound really scares me/ freaks me out. There is no pain. Advice much appreciated!

  3. I am having the same problems with cracking AFTER a massage. Isn't it possible the massage therapist did something wrong. The cracking and some pain will not go away. it is about 4 months now.

  4. I am having the same problems with cracking AFTER a massage. Isn't it possible the massage therapist did something wrong. The cracking and some pain will not go away. it is about 4 months now.

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