Are You Harming Yourself When You Crack Your Joints?
An estimated 25–54% of people crack their knuckles on a daily basis, most of them being males. To some, waking up and stretching, cracking and popping their knuckles, back, neck and other parts of the body just feels good and comes naturally. “Don’t do that, you’ll get arthritis!” you may have heard people say. It comes off as an old wives’ tale, but does it actually hold any weight? Does cracking your knuckles (or other parts of the body) actually do long-term damage? Here I’ll address the facts and fiction of cracking joints.
What causes cracking in joints?
First and foremost, it’s important to understand what causes the popping sounds when you crack your joints — a mystery that still isn’t 100% solved, but there are a couple of leading theories. The first one involves synovial fluid bubbles. Synovial fluid is a viscous fluid found in synovial joints, which are the most movable types such as the shoulders, knees, wrists, etc. When a joint is pulled, gas present inside of the join is released, forming gas bubbles within the synovial fluid. The presence of the bubbles and the sudden change of pressure causes them to burst, which in turn cause the popping sound you hear when you crack your knuckles.
Another, more probable, theory involves something called cavitation. This is when cavities form inside of a joint when pulled, bent, twisted or otherwise manipulated. These cavities are formed within the synovial fluid and then rapidly collapse, creating the sharp audible popping sound.
Is it safe to crack your knuckles (or other joints)?
The claim that cracking your knuckles leads to arthritis is not supported by any scientific evidence. However, in a study done in 2011, it was found that knuckle crackers are more likely to have chronic hand swelling and lower grip strength than those who do not habitually crack their knuckles. That being said, the study also failed to acknowledge that since knuckle cracking is often used as a stress reliever, habitual knuckle crackers were also more likely to take part in other activities such as manual labor, smoking, nail biting and alcohol consumption which may be the main factors in swollen hands and grip strength. This means that cracking your knuckles is correlated with hand issues, but is not necessarily the cause of them. But all in all, no, cracking your knuckles will not give you arthritis.
While cracking your knuckles has been found to be relatively harmless, other things can cause a snapping or a popping sound, such as when tendons snap over joints. In some cases, people may notice a consistent popping in their joint as they work out. For instance, if you feel/hear your shoulder popping over and over again as you lift weights, it could indicate that the muscles are tight and some extra stretching may be needed before you begin your workout. If the snapping becomes painful and radiates to other parts of the body, cease the workout immediately, take a warm shower to loosen the muscles, and visit a chiropractor. Painful popping in the joints could indicate a torn muscle or other injury. Your chiropractor can help to heal it to get you back on track.
For any further questions or to schedule a consultation, give me a call. I’ll help to develop a personalized treatment regimen that will help you become more limber, coordinated and balanced.