You might be a little concerned to hear snap, crackle and pop in the morning, especially when those noises are not coming from your bowl of cornflakes. Instead, those noises might be coming from one, two or three of your joints.
Some of the common myths about cracking of the joints include:
- Cracking one’s joints causes arthritis.
- Habitual knuckle-cracking results in functional hand impairment
The above are just myths and have never been proven.
Let us look at the different noises and why they occur:
- A “snap” is classically heard coming from the hip joint – a snapping hip. Usually, this sound represents a tendon slipping over one of the big hip bones.
- A “crackle” or crackling-like sensation is typically felt or heard underneath the shoulder blade. Fibrous muscle tissue between the chest wall and the shoulder blade can turn a smooth glide into bumpy sensation.
- A “pop” can sometimes be heard around the room when someone adjusts a knuckle joint. Any synovial joint from your knuckles, elbows, spinal joints, and down to your ankles, can be “popped.” A joint capsule surrounds all synovial joints and is a ‘closed’ system filled with fluid. Any deformation creates a reduction in pressure within the joint cavity. In this low-pressure environment, some of the gases that are dissolved in the synovial fluid (which are naturally found in all bodily fluids) leave the solution, making a bubble, or cavity, which rapidly collapses resulting in a “popping” sound. The contents of the resultant gas bubble are thought to be mainly carbon dioxide. The effects of this process will remain for a period of time known as the “refractory period,” during which the joint cannot be “re-cracked,” which lasts about twenty minutes, while the gases are slowly reabsorbed into the synovial fluid.
- Repetitive “clicks” could be:
- Connective tissue out of its proper alignment
- Cartilaginous tissue damage such as torn meniscal flaps or other chondral tissue damage.
- A large nerve out of alignment as well e.g. the ulnar nerve (inside of the elbow), which slips in/out of the groove when you bend and straighten the elbow.
- It might be a true subluxation, in which the joint is off axis, and a particular movement shifts it back on axis.
Why Does it Feel Good When a Joint Pops?
This stretch on the capsule stimulates sensors (Type III joint mechanoreceptors) which cause a relaxation of surrounding muscles around the joint. So, if you had sensations of feeling stiff and tight, the ease and looseness you feel after the pop is probably because of this phenomenon.
Another theory is that natural painkillers (endogenous opiates) are released, thus the good feeling after someone cracks your back. These can be quite addictive and this is why many people keep cracking their back or keep going to see someone that will do it for them.
Is popping and cracking of the joints bad for you?
- Most noises from normal movement are normal and fine. What is not normal and fine is if this happens with pain.
- Do not force the “pop” to happen. Do not to twist your neck and back forcefully.
- These sounds can change as you continue in your training and exercise. Keep an eye on what happens, either as it improves or gets worse. You will be able to see if changes in your program affect this over time.
Free Your Body of Those “Pops”
As you continue to move and exercise and change your body over time, you will notice changes in strength, flexibility, and coordination will bring other developments as well.
With new awareness you may feel that your clicking shoulder does not do that anymore, or your crunchy knees do not crunch any longer. These positive changes only tend to happen if we begin exercising or we step outside of our normal exercise routines and get moving in a different way.
Moving in the same patterns over and over again could have you over-stressing your joints and tendons. This may lead occasional clicking to turn into a consistently painful issue.
It is great to exercise regularly and there is probably no preventive medicine better than that, but do not turn your training into an unbending and inadaptable routine. Invest time in new and unusual movements and your body will thank you for it.
NB: See your doctor whenever you experience pain accompanying the ‘popping’ or ‘clicking sound’.
Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Health Centre