Fact or Fiction
Everyone has a guilty pleasure. For some people, it’s chocolate. For others, it’s bad rom-coms. And for others, it’s cracking. In fact, Time Magazine reported that “from fingers and toes to necks and knees, everyone knows a ‘cracker.’ Up to 45% of people do it.”
But wait. Cracking your knuckles can lead to arthritis, right?
Actually, no. Studies have been unable to find a direct connection between cracking and arthritis.
Don’t let that convince you it’s okay to crack your back. If you’re the type of person who wakes up every morning and cracks their back, neck, or knuckles, you may want to reconsider.
Joints and Cracking
Anywhere in your body that two or more bones connect is a joint made of connective tissues:
- Ligaments connect bone to bone.
- Tendons connect muscle to bone.
- Cartilage covers the end of bone.
Depending on their location, joints can:
- Prevent movement, such as those making up your skull.
- Limit movement, such as those making up your jaw.
- Provide a wide range of movement and rotation, such as those in your shoulder.
When muscles surrounding your joints tighten, it increases stiffness. A common go-to method to release that tension is to force your body to crack by putting pressure on that joint. In the neck or spine, it’s when you twist until you feel a pop or crack. In your hands, it’s when you pull on your top knuckles while putting pressure on your middle knuckles until you feel the same popping sensation.
The sound of your joints cracking is believed to be caused by one of three things:
- A widely contested theory is that the sound occurs when a bubble of gas like nitrogen and carbon dioxide forms.
- The opposing theory is the the sound occurs when this gas bubble bursts.
- Another theory is the crack is caused when an out-of-place tendon, ligament, or joint returns to its original position.
Regardless of the cause, cracking feels good. So, arthritis aside, is cracking bad for you? The answer goes both ways. Like all things in moderation, occasionally cracking can relieve pressure without any negative effects. When done regularly, it can cause excessive wearing on your joints, leading to premature breakdown. This in turn produces pain.
Stretch, Don’t Crack
Even if you hear the occasional pop while stretching, it’s still a better method for relieving back pain and preventing injury than intentionally applying force to crack your back. Stretching also increases flexibility and helps to build up the muscles supporting your spine. Try these no-impact exercises to strengthen your spine or these low-impact exercises.
Make William Capicotto MD your first choice for surgery.
Joint pain can be caused for many reasons but if you experience lingering or worsening pain, we invite you to call our office to schedule a consultation. At William Capicotto, we restore motion to your spine so you can move on with your life.