Is it ok to crack your joints?
Say you’ve been working at your computer for a while and you’re feeling a little stiff. So you roll your head around until you get a satisfying “pop!”, your neck feels a bit looser, and you get back to work. Only to realize that you need to do it again fifteen minutes later. Believe it or not, there’s a reason for that.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. The simple act of ‘cracking’ your neck, knuckles, or even toes releases endorphins into the joint and can bring about instant relief for a stiff joint. But is it safe?
Well, not really. Cracking your neck, if done too often and without knowing the proper way to move the joint, can cause serious problems.
Think about the neck. There are a whole lot of important body structures contained in one small area – your spinal cord, lower brain stem, arteries, blood vessels, ligaments, nerves, bones, joints and muscles. Twisting and turning your neck in the wrong way could put those delicate body parts at risk.
What happens when you crack your neck?
What you’re hearing is a phenomenon called cavitation. It’s the act of putting negative pressure on the synovial fluid that lubricates the joint, which releases tiny bubbles of dissolved nitrogen. Like what happens when you open a can of soda.
Chiropractors use this negative pressure and resulting cavitation to free up joints and make them work better than they were working previously. They are trained to learn the best way to do so, and know how to feel for a joint that needs help.
It’s the art of knowing what to move, and knowing how to move it.
So does cracking your joints lead to arthritis?
The danger in too much self-manipulation of your own joints is over-stretching the ligaments. Much like a rubber band, if you stretch a ligament too much, it’ll lose its shape and strength – this is known as hypermobility. If you stretch your ligaments too much by repeatedly cracking your neck or back, eventually they’ll lose the ability to provide the stability your joints need to maintain proper alignment. Over time this can lead to osteoarthritis as the supporting cartilage wears away and the ‘cushion’ between your bones disappears.
Osteoarthritis is a serious, irreversible and painful condition. And it leads to even worse stiffness than you had when you first started cracking your spine.
Even scarier, studies have shown that people under 60 who repeatedly crack their necks have been shown to be more likely to have a stroke than those who don’t. That’s because the cracking can cause blood clots that deprive the brain of oxygen.
It’s different if you crack your knuckles – that won’t lead to arthritis. Plus, there aren’t nearly as many delicate parts in your hands. In fact, some studies have suggested that repeated cracking of knuckles can actually make them healthier.
What to do when you get the urge?
So what should you do when your neck’s stiff and you have an overwhelming urge to crack it? It does get addictive. But while it feels good for a minute, it doesn’t really help in the long run. It’s just the symptom you’re relieving – not the actual problem.
That’s when it’s time to call your chiropractor, who will do a thorough examination and determine the best treatment plan.
The Ascent Chiropractic Difference
At Ascent Chiropractic we’re committed to not just relieving that nagging stiff neck but to correcting it’s cause and optimizing your body to function better than it ever has before. Our unique, low-force, evidence-based approach to treatment allows us to correct spinal biomechanics, restore normal function, and get you out of pain and on the road back to optimal health.
Don’t want chronic joint pain and stiffness to be part of your future? Schedule an appointment by calling us at 262-345-4166 or use our online scheduling app.