There are some sounds in life that can be very annoying. Like the sound of fingernails across a chalkboard or a jackhammer during construction. So too the cracking of joints!
As a chiropractor, the cracking sound that comes from joints is one of the topics we discuss with our patients on a weekly basis. “Wow, that really cracked today”, or “that didn’t crack very much today”, and every comment in between is not uncommon in chiropractic practices.
People love the crack, hate the crack or are indifferent about the crack. The interesting thing is that there is so much emphasis placed on the crack and yet it has nothing to do with chiropractic care…it’s just a side effect.
You’ll see why as you continue to read…
Outside of the crack that comes with the chiropractic adjustment, the next biggest question we get, especially from caring parents, is whether or not cracking the knuckles can cause arthritis.
No science behind the scare tactics!
Of course, being an annoying sound and quite often a frequent habit for their children, parents are hoping that the answer to this is a resounding YES! Unfortunately we can’t back the parents’ strategy to scare their youth from cracking their knuckles…at least based on the science.
The crack that comes with both the adjustment and with finger cracking is considered normal joint physiology. As a by-product of the joint surfaces (cartilage) feeding themselves, they give off nitrogen and other gases into the fluids that bathe them. These gases exist in the joint space as tiny little bubbles.
When the joint is pulled in a certain direction, this causes a negative pressure in that joint, like a vacuum, and causes more fluid to be pulled into the space and the little bubbles of gas to come together or coalesce. As they join, the gas bubbles get larger and larger until so many of them unite that they create a cavitation or release of gas heard as the crack with which we are so familiar.
The research shows that this process of cracking the knuckles does not lead to arthritis
One gentleman went so far as to only crack the knuckles of his one hand and not the other for 60 years to be able to compare the outcome. As predicted, neither hand showed signs of arthritis.
There is, however, and I would concur, some concern with this repeated cracking and the effect it can have on the soft tissues around the joint. Some of the research does show that cracking joints can predispose people to more swelling and potentially lax or looser ligaments.
So other than being a none too attractive nervous habit, and a way for those of us who may use our hands a lot to get some relief – knuckle cracking does not seem to lead to arthritis. Because of the potential effects on soft tissues and allowing some joints to move better than others, especially when looking at more complicated arrangements like the spine, if someone can abstain from this cracking, or at least any excessive cracking, it may be better for them in the long run.
But in terms of knuckle cracking and arthritis…it is not all that it’s cracked up to be!
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