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Can I stop my neck clicking?

Q) I've had osteoarthritis in my lower back, hips, big toe joints and fingers for more than 20 years, and three years ago had both hips replaced. Shortly afterwards my neck started to click several times a day. It has now worsened and become louder, which is embarrassing when I'm in company. My GP isn't very sympathetic. Are there any exercises I can do? Would physiotherapy help, or steroid injections?
Mrs MA Joseph, Iffley, Oxford (Autumn 2005)

A) Clicking joints is a common complaint. It can be due to several things. Firstly, and particularly in the neck, it's due to the bones and ligaments sliding over each other as you turn your neck. Most people over the age of 40 have this and it seems to undergo periods of deterioration. The main thing is not to be bothered by it. Secondly, ligaments can ‘snap’ over bony bits as the joint is moved. This seems to happen most often in the hip. Again it can be distressing but it doesn’t mean the joint is dislocating (as some people think). Finally, joints can be made to crack – try pulling on your fingers. This is due to gas appearing in the joint due to the negative pressure created. This can happen in other joints as they're moved and is probably the cause of your neck cracking. I wouldn’t recommend any treatment. My patients ask me to lubricate their joints – ‘if only I had a little hole where I could put some oil in’ – but, alas, this isn’t possible.


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