Do you crack your joints? If so you’ve probably wondered if it is good for you. It usually gives you a satisfying pop or crack so it can't be that bad right. If you don't crack your joints then you probably find it horrifying that people do it. There is that one guy in the office that incessantly cracks his neck as though his trying to remove his own head.
What is cracking?
Cracking or popping of a joint is basically moving the two ends of a joint away from each other (cavitation) which will then release the nitrogen gas within it. The release of this gas creates the popping sound. It can be hard to believe that this sometimes loud sound can come from a simple gas release but you could liken it to pulling a suction cup off a piece of glass.
Is cracking good for me?
Well, the short answer is we don't really no. There is no definitive proof either way. There have been few studies into this to prove cracking is good for you. The classic story that is always brought out is story of Dr Unger who famously only cracked the knuckles on one hand for 60 years. He would then compare the hands to see if there was any difference, which he found that there wasn’t. Neither hand had arthritis.
The understanding that science has as to what happens when we crack a joint appears to be very safe. Releasing of gas from a joint appears to be a natural and normal part of everyday life. The old idea that it was the bones of the joint rubbing against each other that caused the sound is not correct. If you have osteoarthritis in a joint then it would be advisable not to crack the joints as it may cause pain, it may also release tension so this would be on a case by case basis. The reason osteoarthritis may be aggravated by cracking will be that the joint won't have cartilage to protect the bone ends so they may actually rub against each other.
What about Chiropractors?
From a Chiropractors perspective they usually advise you not to crack your own joints, especially the neck, as this can over stretch the ligaments in the joint which will make them looser and crack even more. You can then get hyper mobile joints that move too much, which means that the locked up joints won't move.
While we are talking Chiros we could add that the idea of putting a joint back in or that a joint can be “out” is a bit of an outdated idea. The reality of what is happening when they “adjust” a joint is just releasing gas or tension from a joint. If you watch the Ted Ed video on what happens when you pop a joint it says that you will be able to “pop” a joint again in 20mins. So my Chiro challenge would be to have your back “adjusted” and then go back 20 minutes to have it cracked again, I'm sure that you would still get a pop as the gas has had time to build up in the joint. It’s like cracking your knuckles. If you crack them right now, you won't be able to crack them again straight away. My knuckles don't crack because they are out of alignment they crack because there is a gas build up in the joint which is a natural process and by product of a synovial joint.
So there you have it if you're a joint cracker and love it then there is no real proof that it is dangerous, just be careful in the neck not to over stretch it.
Watch the video that shows what really happens when you pop your joints on an ultrasound
Watch the TedEd video on what happens when you pop a joint.