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Snap Crackle & Pop

Tags: | Published on: February 18, 2015

When I was a kid, I used to amuse my friends with the variety of ways I could crack my knuckles, back, neck and even my jaw. These days it seems like I can’t move my body without it amusing me with a symphony of cracks and pops. So why do people like to lace their fingers and crack their knuckles, and is it good or bad for our joints.

A joint is essentially the meeting point of two bones that are held together by connective tissue and ligaments. All of our joints are surrounded with synovial fluid which acts as a lubricant allowing for smooth movement. This fluid is housed by what we call the joint capsule, and when we overstretch that capsule to pop our fingers, you increase its volume and thereby you decrease the pressure of the gases in the joint forming a gas bubble that bursts producing that “popping” sound. It takes about 25 minutes for those gases to re-dissolve back into the fluid, and that’s why you can’t crack your joints repeatedly.

So why do we crack our joints?

Well, there is evidence that suggests that right after popping there’s an increase in joint mobility as the nerve endings are stimulated allowing the surrounding muscles to relax. That’s why Physical Therapists and Chiropractors alike use a technique called manipulation on backs, necks and other joints to provide some pain relief and increase mobility.

But of course, too much of a good thing may be harmful.

While we have not been able to link joint cracking with arthritis, habitual joint cracking may cause soft tissue damage to the joint capsule by rapid over stretching of the ligaments surrounding the joint. A study has shown that habitual joint crackers may have a weak grip and/or joint swelling in the hand.

The popping sound of cracking your joints should not be confused with the grinding sounds of arthritis and damaged joint lining. People that suffer from arthritis or other joint damage related to a trauma may hear the sounds of grinding which is usually related to the lack of synovial fluid in the joint, much like a grinding motor with no oil lubrication. There are treatments like physical therapy that may alleviate any discomfort or pain that may be a result of arthritis or joint damage.

Give us a call if you suffer from any arthritic or related symptoms and want more information.


By Michael Rizkalla, OTR/L