The Mechanics Of Cracking
Whats creating that cracking or popping noise isnt fully known.
A traditional explanation is that pressure on a joint creates tiny bubbles in the synovial fluid, which pop when they form quickly. Your synovial fluid contains oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide and cushions your bones from rubbing against each other.
A 2015 study used real-time magnetic resonance imaging of joint cracking that showed the noise was related to cavity formation in the joint fluid, not collapse of a preexisting bubble. The technical term for this is tribonucleation, where two surfaces separate rapidly, leaving a gas cavity.
Joint Sounds Due To Inflammation
One cannot blame every joint sound on rheumatoid arthritis as some joint deterioration is expected from normal aging. But for me, the sounds come and go depending on the level of inflammation. This symptom reminds me that joints may be activity impacted by the disease. The snap, crackle, and pop of joints serve as an audible reminder of RA.
Why People Crack Their Knuckles
Studies have shown that more than 50% of people crack their knuckles regularly, which can be caused by a multitude of reasons. Some of the main reasons people enjoy indulging in hearing these pops and cracks include:
- They enjoy the sound.
- They like the feeling of released tension.
- Its a nervous habit.
- Some people do it to relieve stress.
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What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease, which means that your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake, causing inflammation in the affected parts of the body.
RA mainly attacks the joints, usually many joints at once. RA commonly affects joints in the hands, wrists, and knees. In a joint with RA, the lining of the joint becomes inflamed, causing damage to joint tissue. This tissue damage can cause long-lasting or chronic pain, unsteadiness , and deformity .
RA can also affect other tissues throughout the body and cause problems in organs such as the lungs, heart, and eyes.
Should I See A Doctor
Its common to have aches and pains in your muscles and joints from time to time. This may especially be true if you take part in unusual or strenuous physical activities.
So, how can you tell the difference between the early signs of arthritis and normal pain and stiffness? And, how do you know when you should see a doctor about your symptoms?
If you have swelling or stiffness that you cant explain and that doesnt go away in a few days, or if it becomes painful to touch your joints, you should see a doctor. The earlier you get a diagnosis and start the right type of treatment, the better the outcome will be.
Here are some other things to think about that might help you decide whether you need to see a doctor:
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Spinal Arthritis May Contribute To Other Issues In The Spine
Spinal arthritis may cause bone spurs overgrowths on the edges of the bones. In the spine, bone spurs particularly affect facet joints, making them grow larger. This condition is called facet joint hypertrophy. Although bone spurs on their own are not harmful, they may narrow the passages for the spinal cord and the nerves exiting the spine. This may lead to two painful conditions:
Spinal stenosis compression of the spinal cord inside the spinal canal
Radiculopathy pinching of the peripheral nerves as they exit the spine
Ankylosing spondylitis may also cause additional problems such as:
Stress fractures in places where new bone has formed
A spinal deformity called kyphosis
Why Joints Crack Or Pop
No one exactly knows why crepitus, the cracking or popping sounds made by the bending joint, occurs. With that said, it is a common condition thought to be caused by one of several processes, including:
- Cavitation: This is a harmless phenomenon in which a vacuum develops in the lubricating fluid surrounding a joint, called synovial fluid. When a joint quickly bends, the rapid release of pressure can cause a cracking sound.
- Escaping gas: If a joint is expanded or flexed, air bubbles can gradually build up in the synovial fluid in the joint space. When the joint is bent, the rapid escape of gas can cause a popping or cracking sound.
- Rapid stretching of ligaments: Ligaments are fibrous tissues that connect bone to bone. If a joint is rapidly bent, the ligament can sometimes make a snapping sound, particularly if it is displaced.
- Joint erosion: When the smooth white tissues between joints, called cartilage, are worn away, they can cause bone to rub against bone. This can cause grating or crunching sounds with movement.
- Broken adhesions: An adhesion is the sticking together of tissues. This can occur after an injury when scar tissues effectively “glue together” adjacent membranes or tissue. When this occurs between the joints, the rapid bending of the joint can cause the adhesion to break, creating a snapping or popping noise.
Generally speaking, if crepitus isn’t accompanied by pain or affecting your mobility, treatment isn’t necessary.
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Does Popping Your Knuckles Give You Arthritis
No this shouldnât result in Arthritis but it may result into muscular damage or even joint imflammation of the affected area.
The reason people associate knuckle cracking with arthritis is because it makes a cracking noise and if something cracks it must be being damaged However The truth is that nothing is being cracked and the Cracking of your knuckles does not cause arthritis. A Joint is any place that the ends of two bones meet. Where the bones come together they have a covering of âarticular cartilageâ. This is surrounded by the âjoint capsuleâ, Inside of which there is synovial fluid. Synovial fluid is the lubricant for the joint and also serves as a source of nutrients for the cells that look after the cartilage.
Synovial fluid has dissolved oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide within it. When the right pressure is applied to a joint, the area inside the joint capsule expands, however the expansion is limited by how much synovial fluid is contained in the joint. Synovial fluid cannot expand unless pressure inside the joint capsule drops and the dissolved gases can escape out of the fluid. The cracking sound comes from the gases rapidly being released from the fluid.
Conflicting Research On Knuckle Cracking And Arthritis
Research studies comparing knuckle crackers’ to non-crackers have had mixed results.1 A couple of studies have reported an association between knuckle cracking and hand arthritis.4,5 Others found no significant connection.6,7
So, is it okay to continue your knuckle cracking? Well, I wouldnt recommend it. Even studies that found no connection between knuckle cracking and arthritis reported other signs of joint changes.1,7,8
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Does Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis
Anxiety, restlessness or just pure pleasure there are lots of reasons why many find comfort in cracking their knuckles. But, does it cause arthritis? The short answer is no.
According to Houston Methodist Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Dr. John Fackler, “There are no known detrimental effects to cracking your knuckles.” At worst, knuckle-cracking may cause temporary swelling or a feeling of weakness in the hands but arthritis, not quite.
Neck Or Back Cracking: Leave It To The Pros
What about neck and back cracking? Thanks to our sedentary lifestyles of sitting at our desks all day and our penchant for staring down at our phones, which leads to text neck, we may find ourselves having neck or back pain. Somehow, the feeling of release you get after a good crack seems to make it better .
While its probably okay to occasionally self-crack your neck or back, dont have a friend do it for you, because they could apply too much pressure and cause injury. When youre talking about your spine, you want to be careful so only get your back or neck adjusted from a licensed chiropractor or physical therapist.
Even then, there has been research indicating neck manipulations could in rare cases lead to stroke, so make sure you tell your practitioner, if you are at an increased risk of stroke. And be sure to talk to your health care provider, if you have any concerns about the risks of such procedures.
The evidence of whether or not cracking your neck can cause damage is fairly inconclusive, says Raymond J. Hah, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at the USC Spine Center of Keck Medicine and assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the Keck School. There is no evidence that cracking your neck or back is a risk factor for disc degeneration.
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Is Cracking Your Joints Bad
Cracking your knuckles or other joints isnt bad, but it may be annoying to the people around you if you do it frequently. In rare cases, if youre cracking a joint too hard, such as in your back, you could injure yourself by pinching a nerve or straining a muscle.
According to a small 2011 study, the cracking process can give you a physical feeling of relief from pressure, whether youre doing it yourself or having a chiropractor manipulate a bone.
The common myth that youll get arthritis in your hands if you crack your knuckles has proven to be just that a myth by another 2011 study. Studies have shown that knuckle cracking doesnt thin your cartilage and isnt likely to lead to osteoarthritis.
How Psa Weakens Bones
The tough truth: Chronic inflammation from PsA means you are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis. The inflammatory state is associated with bone loss, says Linda A. Russell, M.D., a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Some patients with psoriatic arthritis also get spondylitis, a type of arthritis in the spine that causes stiffness. This condition can increase the risk for vertebral fractures.
Bone loss or weakening caused by PsA goes up with age, according to researchers the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, who found that bone erosions in the dominant hand of people with PsA nearly doubled between the ages of 40 and 60. Meanwhile, the number of bone spurs went up from 7.5 to nearly 12.
Other research suggests that psoriasis itself may have an underlying effect on bone. In fact, when researchers compared imaging results from 101 people with psoriatic arthritis, they detected substantially more erosions and bone spurs in those who had psoriasis for at least 20 years compared to those whose psoriasis was less than 10 years in duration.
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Tendons Snapping Over Joints
Tendons keep muscles attached to bones, while ligaments connect bones to other bones. Ligaments can make popping noises when they tighten while the joint is moving. Tendons can make a popping noise when they move out of place and snap back into position as the joint moves.
People often hear these noises in their knee and ankle joints when they stand up from sitting or while walking up or down the stairs.
Will Arthritis Go Away
Although theres no cure for arthritis, treatments have improved greatly in recent years and, for many types of arthritis, particularly inflammatory arthritis, theres a clear benefit in starting treatment at an early stage. It may be difficult to say what has caused your arthritis.
What type of arthritis is caused by broken bones?
Osteoarthritis causes cartilage the hard, slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones where they form a joint to break down. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the immune system attacks the joints, beginning with the lining of joints.
What is the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis?
The most obvious difference between osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis is that osteoporosis affects the bones, whereas rheumatoid arthritis affects the joints. Bones are made up of a combination of collagen fibers and minerals such as calcium.
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Other Habits Associated With Knuckle Cracking
One research study of 300 people reported that people who cracked their knuckles were more likely to have manual labor jobs and smoke.7
Manual labor can be a risk factor for osteoarthritis. If you have a manual labor job, finding ways to reduce daily stress on your joints may be more important than quitting knuckle cracking to lower your risk of arthritis.
Likewise, quitting smoking or other nicotine use can reduce your risk of serious medical problems, including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease .
Question: What Causes Arthritis
Answer: There are different kinds of arthritis with the major categories being two: The inflammatory arthritides such as the rheumatoid arthritis and the degenerative arthritis best known as osteoarthritis or wear and tear arthritis. The causes for either are not well known and research focuses on elucidating the mechanisms leading to these diseases. In general a genetic predisposition is highly likely for both. For the inflammatory arthritis an unknown exposure to environmental stimuli is considered possible. For the wear and tear arthritis instead, aging and excessive mechanical stress may play a role in accelerating the damage in the joints as it happens in the knees of genetically predisposed older obese people.
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What The Research Says About Knuckle Cracking
Several studies have been done to determine if knuckle cracking is associated with arthritis. To date, no link has been found.
In one report, researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences examined a group of 215 people. Twenty percent of them said they cracked their knuckles regularly.
Results showed 18.1 percent of those participants who cracked their knuckles and 21.5 percent of those who didnt had arthritis in their hands. The investigators concluded that the chance of having arthritis was about the same in both groups.
In 1998, Dr. Donald Unger performed an informal study that was published as a letter to the editor in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism. As part of his experiment, the doctor cracked the knuckles on his left hand at least twice a day for 50 years, while leaving the knuckles on his right hand alone to serve as a control.
Dr. Unger estimated that the knuckles on his left hand were cracked at least 36,500 times. In his letter, he concluded that after 50 years, neither of his hands showed symptoms of arthritis, and there were no differences between the two hands.
The results of a study published in 2017 agreed with Dr. Ungers conclusions. Researchers found knuckle crackers had the same level of physical function as those who didnt crack their knuckles.
While research overwhelming suggests that knuckle cracking doesnt lead to arthritis, the following can increase your risk of developing the condition:
- a previous joint injury
How Is Psoriatic Arthritis Diagnosed
Psoriatic arthritis is easier to confirm if you already have psoriasis. If you donthave the skin symptoms, diagnosis is more difficult. The process starts with a healthhistory and a physical exam. Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms. Youmay have blood tests to check the following:
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate . This test looks at how quickly red blood cells fall to the bottom of a test tube. When swelling and inflammation are present, the bloods proteins clump together and become heavier than normal. They fall and settle faster at the bottom of the test tube. The faster the blood cells fall, the more severe the inflammation.
- Uric acid. High blood uric acid levels can be seen in psoriatic arthritis but are not used for diagnosis or monitoring.
- Imaging. X-rays, CT scans, ultrasound, MRI, and skin biopsies may all be used to help diagnosis.
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What Is Psoriatic Arthritis
Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis linked with psoriasis, a chronic skin andnail disease. Psoriasis causes red, scaly rashes and thick, pitted fingernails.Psoriatic arthritis is similar to rheumatoid arthritis in symptoms and jointswelling . But it tends to affect fewer joints than RA. And it does notmake the typical RA antibodies. The arthritis of psoriatic arthritis comes in 5forms:
- Arthritis that affects the small joints in the fingers, toes, or both
- Asymmetrical arthritis of the joints in the hands and feet
- Symmetrical polyarthritis, which is similar to RA
- Arthritis mutilans, a rare type of arthritis that destroys and deforms joints
- Psoriatic spondylitis, arthritis of the lower back and the spine
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Possible Changes In The Hand
Research suggests people who often crack their knuckles may have:
- More swelling in their hands7
- A slightly larger range of motion in their hands8,9while this seems like a good thing, hypermobility can put a joint at risk of osteoarthritis and other injuries
- Signs of cartilage changes in their knuckle joints that indicate possible scarring and a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis1
Like the research regarding knuckle cracking and arthritis, the research regarding these potential effects also sometimes conflicts. For example, the same study1 that reported knuckle crackers had cartilage changes did not find they had weaker grip strength.
Studies examining knuckle cracking tend to be small, ranging from 35 to 300 people. Also, most compare knuckle crackers and non-crackers at a single point in time. Larger, longer-term studies that measure changes in hands over time are necessary to draw more clear conclusions.
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