Knuckle cracking can be fun, and a great way to release tension and “activate” your joints. But does cracking our necks, fingers and backs really damage the joints as we might have heard from adults when we were kids, or read on a random internet page?
Well, we did some research, and here’s what we think you should know about joint cracking:
Is Joint Cracking Healthy?
Different joints react to cracking in different ways, so there’s really no general answer to the question. Below is a more detailed breakdown of the same:
Knuckle Cracking: Mostly Safe
Most people believe that cracking your knuckles causes some bubbles in the surrounding synovial fluid (found in all joints) to burst, hence producing the ‘pop’ sound. However, newer research indicates that the sound is caused by the formation of negative space, or cavity, within the synovial fluid.
Yeah, we won’t get deep into all that scientific stuff, but to answer the question, knuckle cracking is generally not harmful. Contrary to what you may have heard, popping your knuckles won’t increase your chances of getting osteoarthritis, or any form of joint problems.
Notably, there are some reports that knuckle cracking is one of the main causes of hand swelling and loss of grip strength. However, there are no conclusive research results to this end and no recorded cases of long-term knuckle damage from cracking.
Neck and Back Cracking: Not Exactly Safe
While knuckle popping is more common among kids, back and neck cracking is mostly done by adults, particularly those who spent most of their days sitting at their desks or on the couch. Cracking enthusiasts point at the relaxing feeling of release, and the enhanced spinal flexibility they get after a crack as ‘benefits’ of the practice. However, available research shows that the so-called benefits of cracking are more psychological than physical, which basically means that cracking your back and neck is practically useless.
But is it harmful though?
Well, how ‘safe’ your spinal cracking habit depends on several factors, the main ones being the frequency and the extent. Not to say that it’s 100% safe, but self-cracking your back and neck a few times a week has not been proven to have any negative effects.
Having a friend help you out is also quite safe but not recommended. The reasoning is that, since your friend does not share your nervous system, they may inadvertently apply too much pressure, which could overly stress the sensitive joints and possibly lead to injury. And as you probably know, the spine is one of the most delicate bones in your body and any injury (even minor ones) could have devastating effects. Matter of fact, if you ever need a good spine or neck cracking, get it done by a licensed chiropractor or physio and you will not only feel CONSIDERABLY more relaxed, but also assured of no damage.
Notably, there are some new studies indicating that in some rare cases, neck cracking can cause stroke so you may want to check if you have any condition that increases your chance of stroke before trying to manipulate your neck.
All in all, it is not advisable to crack your back and spine as there are more effective and holistic ways of getting them to relax. Backrubs and cold or warm presses are, for instance, much better at removing tension. Stretching every couple of hours also helps with backaches and pains, especially when coupled with regular physical exercise.
If Joint Cracking is Painful, Better See Your Doctor
In summary; cracking your joints is neither harmful nor painful if done with moderation. If you feel any pain after a crack, it could be a sign of torn cartilage and ligaments, and hence you should see an arthritis doctor.