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Snap, Crackle, and Pop

You love to pop—but should you stop? I don't know about you, but I almost always take notice whenever my joints start to pop or make some sort of popping noise in general. I find that, at least for me, these noises tend to happen as I am standing up after a long period of sitting down, or as I am bending to sit after a long period of standing still in once place and posture. Of course, these noises can be explained away by a variety of particular causes and reasons, but the good news to be had here is that the sounds of a pop, creak, or crack in your joints is very rarely harmless at all. Even joints that are completely healthy and have experienced virtually no strain or injury at all have been known to make an occasional popping or cracking noise at least on occasion. If you are a chiropractic patient, you may have heard your joints crack or make some loud noises during your appointment as your chiropractor adjusted your joints, but this is also almost always completely normal. Most of the time, the joints pop and make noise due to the release of gas.

When It’s Harmless

In most cases, it’s harmless if your joints crack or pop occasionally. For the most part, the cracking sound is caused by bubbles of gas in the synovial fluid in our joints. It takes awhile for these bubbles to re-form. If your knuckles crack, and then you can’t crack them again for awhile, this is why. As a general rule, if your joints crack from natural motion, without any discomfort or swelling, you can assume it's harmless. So when you get up from your desk after a long work session, stretch your spine, and feel that pleasant, mild popping? You can relax and just enjoy it.

When It’s Harmful

In some cases, joint popping is caused by more serious conditions. If the cracking is accompanied by a rubbing or grinding noise (or if you get little crackling sensations or sounds every single time you move the joint), it may be a sign of arthritis. That grinding or cracking can be a sign of the breakdown of cartilage. If the popping happens mostly every time you move the joint, that’s not caused by air bubbles. Instead, it could be from a joint restriction or subluxation, or a misaligned tendon that snaps when you move. These issues typically show up in our most mobile joints, like our knees, ankles, and shoulders. Lastly, any popping that you make happen is harmful. So if your back cracks from a gentle stretch, fine. Cracking your own back, or getting a friend to do it? Not fine. You could damage your joints and permanently damage ligaments by forcing the joint beyond its normal range of motion. The same principle applies to all of your joints, so inveterate knuckle-crackers should find a way to break the habit.

Just remember the pops and cracks you hear/feel while during a chiropractic adjustment are completely normal and expected. But you may not always hear/feel them which doesn’t mean the adjustment wasn’t successful. It is completely possible to have a successful adjustment without the popping and cracking.

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