Many people cringe at the sound of knuckles, elbows and other joints cracking. For years, experts have debated whether or not this common cracking could cause joint problems.
It has recently been confirmed that this ‘popping’ is due to a small bubble forming between your joints. The bubble forms when your joints move apart, forming a kind of vacuum in the synovial fluid, a slippery substance that lubricates your joints.
People who can deliberately make joints like knuckles pop usually do so by pushing or pulling the joint in such a way as to make an air bubble appear with a sudden pop. This is called joint cavitation. Once the bubble is there the joint will not pop again until all the air has been reabsorbed.
However, there are other cracking noises and sensations that may of concern. Snapping and cracking noises can be caused by osteoarthritis as a consequence of the natural ageing process, or following a trauma or disease in the joint. In this case the cartilage, which eases friction in the joint breaks down, so that movement causes painful friction and crunching noises.
Snapping noises and sensations, on the other hand, are likely to be caused by muscle or tendon moving across a bone. This happens when a tendon is slightly loose, and occurs most often in the hip, knee, ankle, wrist and shoulder. This could eventually lead to bursitis, or inflammation of the fluid-filled sac that allows muscle to move smoothly over bone.
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So why do we as chiropractors and physiotherapists sometimes cause joints to crack? Chiropractic manipulation takes advantage of the phenomenon of cavitation to induce movement in stiff and painful joints and offload looseness in the neighbouring joints. This reduces the likelihood of accidental popping. In other words, popping joints in the correct way can help relieve stiffness and makes neighbouring joints more stable.
Are you a joint cracker or know someone that is? Be sure to share this article with them!
Physioimpulse Chartered Physiotherapists