Cracking your knuckles / back / neck (or whatever tickles your fancy) can feel oh so good. But is it any good for you or should you be avoiding it all together?
What happens when you crack a joint?
Self-manipulating or ‘cracking’ a joint involves taking it to the end of it’s range until a audible pop or crack occurs. This noise is caused by ‘cavitation’ in the joint, which involves tiny gas bubbles being popped as the pressure in the joint changes. It is different to the noise that comes from a ligament or tendon snapping over other tissue or clicking/cracking caused by an arthritic joint.
Is it bad for you?
In one word, no. There are no studies to show that manipulating your joints will cause increased laxity, instability or degeneration. It is also important to remember that nothing is being popped in or out of place and no joint surfaces are rubbing together.
So, is it good for you?
When used occasionally, self manipulating can be a useful way of relieving stiffness or tightness because it can calm your central nervous system down by providing a non-threatening input. The problem is that the more you crack, the more you feel you need to crack. Sound a bit like an addiction? Well, not quite but it can definitely become a hard habit to break. The more repetitively and frequently you self manipulate, like most things, the greater the need will be for the same amount of relief. I often see people who say “it just feels like it needs a good crack”. Sometimes they are right, but often there are many other things that can be done to provide a greater and longer term relief.
So what else can be done for relief?
Remember that cracking your joints does not change your alignment or move your joints in and out of place
Ask your physio to show you some other exercises/movements – often they provide better long term relief and are much easier to reproduce
Avoid positions or movements that increase your symptoms
Practice mindfulness – consciously acknowledge the feeling of needing to crack and practice allowing it to pass.