We have all been sitting in class, at work or on the tram, and the distinctive sounds of cracking joints ripples through the room. Finger knuckles, spines, necks, they are are joints being cracked or popped. To some, it’s like fingernails down a chalkboard! To others, it’s the satisfying release they crave. But is it bad for you? Does it cause arthritis? We bust this myth today!
Joint Cracking! What exactly is this?
Each of our joints has synovial fluid surrounding them. This fluid helps with cushioning, and also allowing the joints surfaces to slide over each other effortlessly. This fluid, which has the consistency of egg yolk also has various gases molecules dissolved within it. Why is this important? Well, it is these gas molecules they create the cracking or popping sound. By gently stretching the joint, we separate the joint surfaces, which creates a low-pressure zone in the synovial fluid. This low-pressure pulls the dissolved gases out of the synovial fluid. The same effect can be seen when you open a soft drink, the carbon dioxide fizzes out when you open the bottle. Within our joints, the escaping gases make a “popping sound”. These bubbles don’t last very long, and slow dissolve again back into the fluid. This takes about 17-24 minutes. And is the reason we cant continually crack a joint over and over again in a short space of time.
MRI Video of a Joint Cracking?
Here is a video, courtesy of the wonderful people at New Scientist, were able to image the exact moment a finger joint cracks. Nerdy… but cool!
Will Cracking Joints Give You Arthritis?
The simple answer is NO! A Doctor Named Dr. Donald Unger put this theory to the test. He spent 50 years only cracking the joints on his left hand to see if it would give him arthritis. Fast forward to 50 years later and there was no more arthritis on his left hand compared to his right.
Why do Osteopaths Crack Joints?
Firstly, as Osteopath’s we have spent 5 years learning and practicing the art of manipulation. We make it look easy because we are highly skilled and have spent countless hours practicing and attending further courses to improve our technique. The easier we can make it look, the more relaxed you, our patients are going to be. Make no mistake, just because we make it look easy, this is far from the case. Especially when we are dealing with highly sensitive areas such as the neck. So why do we do it?
The answer to this is 3 fold:
- It improves the range of motion at this joint. As we crack a joint, we see the temporary improvement in flexibility and movement.
- It relaxes the muscles around the joint. This may be a side effect or the reason we see an improvement in flexibility and range of motion of the joint
- It releases Endorphins- These are our feel-good hormones.
So when we crack joints, it feels good, moves better and is less tight. How good is that?