Why Cracking Your Joints Isn't Bad, But Something Else Is

The merits of cracking your joints can be a little confusing.

On one hand, it feels great.

On the other, it’s made out to be both bad and something that may contribute to Arthritis down the track.

So what do we need to know about cracking your joints?

The Crack You Hear Is Called a ‘Cavitation’

When we hear that distinctive crack we are witnessing a release of pressure.

If we open up the joint just enough there can be a release of a built up gas bubble.

As the pressure within the joint subsides, so can some associated feelings of stiffness, soreness and surrounding muscle tenderness.

The important thing to know here is that this process is relatively safe.

Will Consistently Cracking Your Joints Lead to Arthritis?

The short answer thankfully, is no.

Cracking your joints will not likely lead to arthritis.

There are moments when cracking a joint can irritate the area, but this has not shown to be connected to Arthritis in any meaningful way. You clearly want to avoid creating unnecessary pain and discomfort over something so minor, but future you should not have to pay the price.

There is however, one very important point to consider when discussing all things joint-cracking.

Cracking your joints may not lead to Arthritis or injury, but the reason why you feel the need to crack them in the first place might.

Pay Attention To Your Postures, Shapes and Positions

If cracking your joints is essentially a release of pressure, we need to ask why that pressure has built up in the first place.

And like many musculoskeletal issues the blame often sits with our daily postures, shapes and positions.

Take the neck for example.

It’s common for a lot of people to wake in the morning with a stiff neck. In a perfect world this shouldn’t happen, but that’s the current reality.

And when we have a stiff neck it often needs a good crack.

Doing so can improve how it feels. But it’s just treating the symptoms and not the cause. There’s every chance you’ll wake up again tomorrow with the same stiff neck, and need to crack it all over again.

In this instance, the neck has likely been in consistent poor postures and positions the day before. Constant poor loading, whether it be looking down at work or at home all day, will increase the load on an isolated part/s of the spine. This will increase the pressure within the joint over time.

Cracking the joint and relieving the tension will still feel great, but unless we become more self-aware of our daily habits, then we will always feel the need to crack these joints.

The Joint-Cracking Continuum

Interestingly, our ability to crack a joint seems to follow a continuum of sorts.

In a perfect world, good posture and positioning will most likely never create the need to crack.

However poorly load it for long enough and often enough, and we may eventually reach that point. And it may not necessarily regress again without taking a step back and taking action.

Furthermore, if we let our poor positions persist, the overloaded areas will eventually be forced to stiffen. This is our body’s way of trying to buffer these bad shapes long in to the future. The side-effect of this is we may progress to a point where we just can’t crack the same joint anymore. It still feels like we need to, but now we’re unable to gap the joint enough to release that built up pressure.

Thankfully, if we can clean up some of our daily postural and positional habits, we can allow the body to ada[t back the other way again.

You might go from not being able to crack the joint anymore, to eventually being able to, and then finally not feeling the need to anymore. But becoming aware of, and changing those habits are crucial.

A Quick Guide to the Cause of Your Cracking Joints

If you’re looking to better understand what area you may be loading poorly for your joints to feel the need to crack here is a quick guide:

  • If you constantly crack your knuckles, the lower reaches of your neck may be stiff

  • If your feet and toes need a good crack, the lower back is likely at fault

  • Following on from the above, if your neck needs to crack look hard at your daily neck shapes. Are you looking down a lot?

  • Similarly if you upper, mid and lower back need to crack intensely scrutinize how you sit on the couch, in the car, at the computer, behind your desk, up in bed etc. Clinically you’re likely to be spending far too much creating a local hinge in the exact areas that need cracking.

Conclusion

So if you’re in to cracking your own joints take some solace in the fact that it may not be doing you any long-term harm. Obviously be very careful not to irritate the area , particularly if it’s feeling quite restricted.

By all means carry on with it, but make sure you’re starting to pay attention to the reasons why the need is there.

If you can’t pinpoint the moments throughout your day where you can improve the way you’re loading the area, then you may never be free of it. Furthermore, it’s these features that may in fact set you up for long-term dysfunction, joint degradation and poor mechanical function - all unnecessarily.

If you’d like to get to the bottom of why your joints consistently feel the need to be cracked, why not give us a call on (949) 443-5442 and come in for a consultation?

We can help make sure those joints are in fantastic working order now and long in to the future.

Alex Goldenring