OK, it is time to tackle another frequent question that comes up in the office. You know that you have been wondering this too!
So, why do our joints crack and pop? Is it bad for us? Since the second question is the easier one… Let’s answer that one first. OK, a joint that cracks is not unusual and is not inherently bad for us. More importantly, cracking does not indicate that there is anything wrong either. More often than not it is totally normal. The major distinguishing factor of whether we need to be concerned is if there is pain or swelling associated with the cracking or popping. If pain or swelling is present, it becomes more likely that there is some sort of injury present.
Typically, when you hear the cracking sound it is related the release of nitrogen from within the capsules that surround the joints. (This is also what we understand to be happening when we manipulate a joint in the spine.) The release of that pressure from within the capsule allows the joint to move a little more freely. Increased range of motion will often lead to a decrease in pain levels.
Do you remember that old wives tale that your grandmother told you as a kid? – “Don’t crack your knuckles because it will give you arthritis.” It is absolutely not true (unless you crack your knuckles every five minutes for 20+ years, then maybe…) My advice to you though.. Don’t you dare tell your grandmother that she is wrong!
Alright we talked about cracking, now let’s discuss the popping. The popping sound that you hear is typically the sound of a tendon snapping over some other structure, most commonly bone. Again, as long as there is no pain or swelling associated with the sound, there is little to worry about. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you are in the clear, but that you don’t really need to worry about it until something changes.
The bottom line is that there is little connection between these sounds and pain. So if you wake up in the morning and your first step of the day sounds like a shotgun going off don’t sweat it, unless there is pain with it! Then give us a call!