Today we have an interesting topic on our hands – cracking joints! Cracking, also called popping of joints is a manipulation of the joint, resulting in or producing a popping sound.
There are many techniques therapists commonly use to crack joints, but you can also do it yourself (I`m sure you tried it many times before). Since there are a lot of joints in our body (over 350), there are a lot of them you can crack – neck, back, arm, leg, hip, jaw shoulder etc.
What Causes Joints To Crack?
Surprising as it may seam, there is still no definitive answer to this question. According to the good people at loc.gov, the reasons are:
- Snapping of the ligaments and tendons. When we move certain joints of our body, naturally, the structures within that joint are moving as well. That movement of the tendons and ligaments, and their return to their original position may cause a snapping or a cracking sound.
- Vacuum and escaping gases. It does sound strange, I know, but the popping of the joints can be caused by small vacuums that form within our joints when we move. Popping those vacuum pockets may produce this sound.
- Last, but certainly not least (sometimes even painful), rough, bony/cartilage surfaces. This is especially common with arthritis sufferers, where the surface of the bone gets rough and the surface is uneven. Movement can cause those surfaces to rub against each other and produce cracking sounds, sometimes even painful.
Is It Harmful Or Not?
The next question I wanted to address and solve is “Is Cracking Joints Harmful?” If you developed a habit of joint cracking, you will probably often hear something like “Stop it, you will get arthritis.”
Even though this statement is unsupported by any serious scientific research, I would advise you to rid of this habit. Numerous studies have shown that cracking your joints will not cause any serious problems (or arthritis), if you do it often and excessive, you might develop problems later, so why take that risk?
I`ve already stated that this habit is not dangerous, but if you do it more often, you might get in trouble. Even though chiropractors have developed their own techniques for neck cracking and employ it with great success, there are some dangerous you should be aware of:
- It can cause lack of mobility, if done often. If you pop your neck “regularly,” over a certain period of time, your cartilage may ware out and cause stiffness, limitation of mobility and even pain.
- Arthritis. More severe cases of joint wear and tear is inflammation in combination with pain and lack of elasticity and mobility – resulting in osteoarthritis.
- Stroke! I bet you didn`t see that coming (to be honest, neither did I). Repeated neck cracking will cause damage to your neck arteries and veins and it may even lead to blood cloths. Depending on the location of the blood cloth and its heading, it may cause serious troubles and, if it gets to the brain, even cause stroke!
OK, I`m sure you are asking yourself now “Why, to hell, are chiropractors cracking people`s necks?” Well, if done properly and in a timely manner, it can have some benefits: enable joint movement and enhance lubrication and help strengthen your muscles and make them more flexible.
Should you do it or not? It is entirely up to you, as I`ve said before, if you do it from time to time, you will be OK, but if you do it often, you might develop some problems.
I know that there are times when you desperately need someone to crack your back, we`ve all been there. So, is back cracking unhealthy?
Well, if you are young and healthy, there shouldn`t be any problems. But, if you are older, especially if there are some existing complications, I would advise not to do it, unless you have professional supervision.
You should not take this lightly, spine is one of the most important structures of our body, comprised out of various nerves, blood vessels, bones, ligaments and tendons; you must be careful with it and, if you want to crack it properly, turn to the pros.
Jaw cracking is fairly common among men and women, up to 10% feel it regularly. The reason behind it is the cartilage within the temporomandibular joint (joint between the jaw and temporal bone, obviously).
Due to the constant pressure and movement, the cartilage is constantly popping out and returning to its previous position, causing that lovely sound we all love.
The reason many be stress and tension, which also cause teeth grinding in our sleep. You should talk to your doctor about this condition.
The reason for shoulder cracking is usually tied to the age and will normally occur once you reach the 40`s. But, if you experience it sooner, it may indicate that there is something wrong.
If your shoulder joint was injured or the muscle and ligaments of the joint are loose, you may experience cracking of the shoulders. If this is the case, you can easily treat it with physical therapy by the use of various strengthening exercises.
Elbow cracking is, also, fairly common but if it gets painful and is limiting your motion there is a possibility that you have suffered a micro fracture and that there is a piece of bone “wandering” around your elbow joint.
If you experience tingling or sharp, radiating pain, that may indicate nerve damage. In any case, you should visit your doctor
Hands(knuckles) And Wrists
If you were told that cracking your knuckles and wrists will cause arthritis, now you know it is not true. Even though this can bee good for you, it is not recommended that you do it often.
Hip cracking is not as common, but due to some strong tendon and ligaments attachments, it can be quite intense. You might even feel pain when you pop your hip.
Not to worry, this is not dangerous and it can easily be addressed with some stretching exercises.
Knee cracking often occurs when we get in the squat position and it comes as no surprise, since the joint has to endure incredible amount of force.
You can prevent and deal with this “problem” by stretching prior to demanding physical activity and strengthening of the muscles of your legs. And, of course, mind your weight.
Ankle cracking is probably one of the most common “cracking type,” and even though there are many various explanations, it is usually due to some old injuries and weakening in the ligaments of the joint.
Injured joint will never perform as it used to, the ligaments will loosen up and the tendons will become weaker, often causing sprain and loud noises.
NOTE: If you start feeling pain, you might have damaged your Achilles tendon. Seek medical attention immediately.