Are you one of those people who make everyone else cringe by cracking your knuckles, wrist or other areas like your neck? Or maybe you just notice that sometimes when you move or stretch you hear cracks? You may also feel a certain satisfaction after it has happened (hopefully not pain!). But what is going on and why? In this article I’ll attempt to answer the following questions:
- What is it?
- Why does it feel good?
- Why can I only do it once?
- Is it doing damage to my body?
It is as described, a ‘cracking’ or ‘popping’ sound within a joint from moving or pulling on a joint, most commonly, the fingers. The most prevalent theory is that the noise is created from a bubble that is formed within the joint when a low pressure area in the synovial fluid is created when a joint is stretched. Another way to think of this is like breaking the seal on a container, you get that initial pop when the seal is broken. Carbon dioxide is believed to come out of the synovial fluid, creating a bubble, which in turn, creates the ‘crack’ or ‘pop’ as all the molecules slam together to create the bubble. Ligament laxity around a joint may allow joints to be more easily cracked than others.
Some other causes may be:
- Rapid stretching of a ligament
- Adhesions being broken within a joint
That feeling of satisfaction after cracking a joint could be from pressure relief in a stiff joint, allowing the joint to move a bit freer, while also stimulating nerve endings.
Why can I only do it once?
This is believed to be called the ‘Refractory Period’ where the gases are slowly absorbed back into the synovial fluid, which can last about 20 mins before you can ‘re-crack’ that joint.
Is it doing any damage to my body?
People often say to those notorious ‘crackers’ that they should stop or they’ll get arthritis. There is no evidence to support this theory, in fact, it is believed to reduce the chance of arthritis if you regularly crack your joints. Medical doctor Donald Unger won a nobel prize in 2009 when he cracked his knuckles in his left hand for over 60 years, but not his right, with no signs of arthritis in his left hand.
This doesn’t mean that you suddenly youtube how to adjust your own spine, obviously cracking your knuckles is relatively safe, however there are people who forcefully rotate or bend their neck to get a crack. This kind of manipulation of your spine may actually cause severe side-effects. There are also people who ask for assistance to get their back cracked by either picking them up from behind or even standing on their back, which is extremely dangerous. If you feel like you have a restricted spine then please see someone qualified to manipulate it like a chiropractor or osteotherapist.
The cracks you hear within the body from movement are unlikely to be doing any damage if they aren’t accompanied by pain. This excludes a ‘grinding’ noise, often heard in the knee joint, which is most likely doing damage and could lead to pain in the future.
Constant cracking within joints and especially the spine may be due to musculoskeletal imbalances in your body creating uneven forces and higher pressures within joints. In the long term this may lead to pain and joint restriction throughout the body, in which case a full postural and musculoskeletal assessment can pick these up, allowing them to be corrected, resulting in a better quality of life now and later on.
Feel free to shoot me a message if you want to know how you can get assessed for advice on lifestyle changes 🙂