It’s easy to get confused about the effect of cracking your joints. If you’re like me, you grew up being told that cracking your joints leads to arthritis. But we all know someone who is constantly clicking, and what about all those chiropractor videos?
The short answer is that cracking your joints is not bad for you. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that it does any harm to the body.
However, the location, frequency, and symptoms you experience with cracking may tell us about potential imbalances in the body. Addressing imbalances could help you reduce the risk of a future injury.
What causes the cracking sound?
First, a little anatomy refresher. In a synovial joint, the knuckles for example, the ends of the two bones that form the joint are pressed together and enclosed by a little bag. The bag is filled with fluid to lubricate and nourish the joint.
When force is applied to the joint (imagine bending your finger backwards) the two bone ends separate, and a cavity forms between them in the fluid filled bag. The formation of this bubble causes the ‘cracking’ sound.
See this article for a more detailed explanation.
What can cracking tell us about spinal mobility?
Most people have heard their back or neck click, crack, or pop. When these noises happen often in just a few places, it may mean that the regions of your spine that are cracking are more mobile than the areas that are not.
If you are able to crack your neck easily, but never hear your upper back crack, your upper back may be stiff. When the upper back cracks every time you lean back in a chair, but you never feel the lower back crack when you twist, this may mean the lower back is tense.
The existence of an imbalance is especially likely if you feel like you need to crack a specific part of the spine regularly to avoid discomfort.
Cracking is not the cure
Cracking can relieve discomfort temporarily, but has no long term benefits for joint health. Back pain usually results from a lack of strength and mobility in multiple areas of the body. You should target these deficits with exercises for the best long-term results.
What do noises in other joints mean?
Noisy joints are very common. Your knee might click when you stand up, or your shoulder might grind when you roll it. Joint noises are nothing to worry about, unless they are associated with pain or swelling. If this is the case, you may want to consult with a health professional, or create a prescription for affected the body part on the Phyx app.
Pain-free noises in peripheral joints like the shoulder, knee, or hip can be caused by muscle imbalances around the joint. Usually, this is because a few muscles are too tight, and others are weak.
To reduce a potential imbalance, we need to loosen the tight muscles while strengthening the weak ones. A simple way to do this is to create a prescription for the affected body part on the Phyx app.
The app will guide you through the process of restoring balance. The Exercises section of your prescription starts with basic movements and lets you know when to progress to more advanced exercises which target multiple parts of the body.
It’s normal for the joints to make noises. You shouldn’t worry unless the joint becomes painful or swollen.
If the spine clicks frequently in one spot, it may be the result of an imbalance. Muscle imbalances can also be the cause of noises in other joints. Strength and mobility exercises are the best way to remedy these.
Question: Have you ever had your back or neck cracked?
Tell us how it went in the comments below. Did it help? For how long? Were you given exercises to work on?