I am frequently asked about whether it is normal for a neck to make a lot of noise. Some of the more common adjectives I hear from patients describing these sensations are creaking, grinding or crinkly noises…the kind of noises you hear on the inside but are not generally audible to others. The short answer is yes, some increase in neck noise is to be expected as we age. However, certain noisy necks deserve a bit more attention.
To clarify, the noisy necks described above should be distinguished from other common neck noises including popping, cracking, clicking or snapping sensations in the neck. The importance in this distinction is that the former is most likely associated with normal wear and tear as long as there is not pain associated with the noise, where the latter may indicate some problems brewing in your noisy neck. Necks that tend to pop a lot, especially those that need to pop to relieve tension or pain, are likely experiencing increased stress in the joints and/or disc at the level of the popping. This should be seen as a warning sign. For the owner of that noisy neck, there is likely some degree of asymmetry in the mobility of the joints in the neck. This can lead to degeneration of those segments of the cervical spine that may lead to more problems than just neck noise down the line.
If your noisy neck is associated with pain and/or ever increasing stiffness and loss of mobility then you should consider consulting with your Physical Therapist. While some loss of motion in you neck is common with aging, especially in your later 60’s and beyond, earlier onset of a significant loss in mobility could be a tipping point for your neck. Many folks who bring this up during a physical therapy appointment are relieved to learn that certain neck noise is normal. In situations where neck noise may be indicative of a neck that’s going south, taking action and making a plan may really make a difference in your quality of life a few years around the bend.
Matt Heyliger, DPT of Excel Physical Therapy completed his Doctorate in Physical Therapy at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington. He has a particular treatment focus in the relationship of cervical/thoracic spine mechanics and upper extremity conditions. An avid rock climber, telemark/backcountry skier and mountain biker, Matt regularly practices yoga and enjoys frequent adventures in the mountains with his family and their two labs.