Sunday, April 14, 2024

Does Popping Your Back Cause Arthritis

Quick Dose: Is Cracking Your Back Bad

Does Knuckle Cracking Cause Arthritis?

Are you guilty of cracking your back? Sometimes there is nothing more satisfying than that release of tension followed by that little pop. But it turns out, the popping noise you experience comes from pockets of gas from synovial fluid in your joints responding to sudden force. The urge to crack likely comes from your joints being out of alignment or restricted in their movements, which impacts the surrounding area.

Northwestern Medicines orthopaedic chiropractor David W. Flatt, DC, explains, When joint restrictions exist, its common that surrounding muscles will tighten around that region, which unfortunately increases the stiffness. The motion created when cracking your back will release that tension, resulting in a pleasant sensation.

As great as it might feel, its important to leave cracking your back to the professionals. By cracking your own back, you could actually make your back issues worse and cause more pain, muscle strain or injury. Professionals can better determine how to manipulate your spine with proper force, without causing additional damage. They can also address any additional issues you might have.

In the meantime, you might relieve back pain by using cold and heat packs on the area. Gentle stretches may also help. If you continue to feel discomfort, consult a medical professional, who can help find the treatment that is right for you.

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Why It Feels Good

In both theories above, the release of pressure is what can make cracking your back feel good. Most people do report relief from the act.

Along with the release of gases, back cracking also releases endorphins in the area that has been adjusted. Endorphins, which are chemicals the body produces in the pituitary gland, are meant to manage pain in your body, and their release can manage pain in the cracked part of your back.

However, there are also studies that suggest a placebo effect is why so many people report relief from cracking their back. A study from 2011 shows that the sound of back cracking was enough to elicit a feeling of relief in many people, even if nothing happened to their joint at all.

Will Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis

The Department of Orthopedics noted there is no evidence that knuckle cracking causes arthritis. However, repeatedly cracking your knuckles may cause temporary soreness of the joint. Knuckles are the joints between your fingers and your hands. These joints are surrounded and lubricated by synovial fluid, a thick, clear liquid. When you crack your knuckles, youre causing the bones of the joint to pull apart. This causes a gas bubble to form in the joint. The cracking or popping sound you hear is the breaking of the adhesive seal in the joint.

The repetitive motion of cracking your knuckles wears down the joints and their protective cushioning. This means individuals who currently have osteoarthritis, caused by the breakdown of cartilage in the joints, could worsen their symptoms by cracking their knuckles repeatedly. However, cracking your knuckles plays no role in rheumatoid arthritis, which is caused when a persons own immune system attacks their joints.

To learn more about the personalized care provided by our doctors using state-of-the-art equipment and technology, please visit our medical services section.

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Damaged Tissue Due To Ra

Other joint sounds actually come from damaged tissue that gets caught in a joint.4 My shoulder joints crunch and lock when I attempt to raise them above my head. My left shoulder locks and pops at three different spots. This snapping sound is known as crepitus5 which is Latin for crackling.6 There are multiple forms but articular crepitus, which occurs at the tips of bones, is a common symptom of RA. As the joint is attacked by inflammation, tissues are degenerated resulting in soft tissue destruction and bone damage.

I know that my knees have permanent damage because an MRI confirmed that the articular cartilage was eroded to the point where pieces of the soft tissue were frayed and floating around in the joint. There are places where rough surfaces of the bone are in contact with one another. My doctor said that the loud popping sounds in my knee are likely from a piece of frayed cartilage catching on something during the flexing motion.

This also explains the nearly constant pain that racks my right knee. But Ive lived with this for over six years and perhaps the progressive aspects of the disease have been slowed down by treatments.

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So Does Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis

Spinal Stenosis

The short answer? Probably not, according to Husni. A study published in 2011 in The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that habitual knuckle cracking did not seem to be a risk factor for hand osteoarthritis. But Husni says cracking your knuckles can lead to other joint issues.

The term arthritis refers to loss of cartilage where your joint space gets more narrow over time, she explains. Eventually, bone meets bone in that joint, and thats really uncomfortable.

As opposed to actual arthritis, Husni says cracking your knuckles can lead to joint laxity, which can cause painand you might mistake that sensation for arthritis. In other words, thats where this myth comes from.

Now, lets break down what it means to develop joint laxity. Any time you do things to your joints that are outside their normal range of motion , that can cause the joints to loosen, according to Husni. And the more you do it, the looser your joints are likely to become, and the more permanently your joints stay in a relaxed state.

But a word of caution: As you get older, there’s a higher chance of arthritis in general, Husni says. So while cracking your knuckles probably doesnt cause arthritis, you could certainly still wind up with it.

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Heres An Important Primer On Your Spine

Before you understand what happens when you crack your back, you have to know a bit about your back itself. Down the center of your back youll find your spine, which you can think of as the scaffolding for the entire body, according to Cedars-Sinai Spine Center. Your spine protects your spinal cord, a bundle of nerves that transmit messages between your brain and pretty much every part of your body. With the help of vertebrae, or interlocking bones, it also supports about half the weight in your body. The average person is born with 33 vertebrae, but most adults only have 24 since some of the lower ones fuse together over time.

Your vertebrae are divided into sections: your cervical spine , your thoracic spine , your lumbar spine , your sacrum , and your coccyx . Your vertebrae connect with each other at the back via flexible joints, and rubbery cushions known as discs are in between each one to provide some cushioning. Finally, your vertebrae connect with muscles, ligaments, and tendons throughout your back to help you do everything from pound out Russian twists at the gym to lean over and whisper in someones ear.

Quick Dose: Can You Get Arthritis From Cracking Your Knuckles

If a friend told you cracking your knuckles causes arthritis, they might have just been searching for a nice way to get you to stop the habit.

The truth is, there is no connection between cracking your knuckles and arthritis or any other long-term health problem.

When you crack your knuckles, the popping noises, or crepitus, result from gas bubbles in the fluid that helps lubricate your joints. The bubbles pop when you pull the bones apart, either by stretching the fingers or bending them backward. It releases some endorphins that help reduce pain, but otherwise, its thought to be a harmless habit that doesnt signal any type of health problem.

Eric M. Ruderman, MD, professor of medicine, associate chief, clinical affairs, Division of Rheumatology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Clinical Practice Director, Rheumatology, Northwestern Medical Group

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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.

Lifestyle Changes To Silence A Creaky Back

Does Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis? A Doctor Explains

In todays tech-driven world, sitting at a computer for hours on end can lead to muscle fatigue and joint stiffness in your back. Some simple changes can reduce the stress and strain on your body.

For example:

  • Change the height of your computer screen midday, which will force a change in posture. Trying a standing desk might be an option, too.
  • Make it a priority to stand up and move every 30 to 45 minutes.
  • If possible, walk around your desk during conference calls.

The goal is to create some variety, says Dr. Bang. You wouldnt go to the gym and only do bicep curls, right? Its the same idea here. You have to switch things up and use different muscles.

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Question: What Causes The Sound

Answer: Joints are covered by a capsule . Within the space of this capsule the synovial fluid is contained which acts as a lubricant and also contains nutrients for the adjacent bone surfaces. A variety of gases are continuously dissolved in this fluid. When one cracks a knuckle, the stretching of the capsule lowers the pressure inside the joint and creates a vacuum which is filled by the gas previously dissolved in the synovial fluid. This creates a bubble which then bursts producing the characteristic popping or cracking sound. It takes a while until these gases are re-dissolved in the synovial fluid which explains why knuckles cannot be re-cracked immediately.

Fact Or Fiction: Does Knuckle Popping Cause Arthritis

Your mother probably warned you as a child that popping your knuckles can cause arthritis, and if you were like most kids, you didnt listen. After all, most children arent too concerned about arthritis anyway. But if youre now an adult who is worried about your years of knuckle popping, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Just like the age-old myth that drinking coffee stunts your growth, the belief that knuckle popping causes arthritis is completely false.

When you pop your knuckles, youre actually creating an air bubble in the synovial fluid of your joints and popping it. As you bend back your fingers, you pull apart the bones in the joints and stretch out the connective tissue. This causes the volume within the joints to increase, allowing dissolved gases from the synovial fluid to collect and form a bubble of air. As the joint is stretched further, the pressure drops so low that the air bubble bursts, causing a popping sound.

Although knuckle cracking does not lead to arthritis, there is evidence that it could lead to other joint problems. Another study, performed by Raymond Brodeur and published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, examined whether habitual knuckle cracking led to joint damage. This study evaluated 300 people who cracked their knuckles on a regular basis. The findings showed evidence of soft tissue damage to the joint capsule and reduced grip strength .

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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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Why Do Joints Pop And Crack

Are you double jointed? If so, where?

The exact mechanism explaining what happens in your joints when they crack and pop isn’t completely understood. However, the general consensus is that the sounds result from the spine releasing gas that has built up in the joints.

One theory is that these gas bubbles naturally build up within the fluid that lubricates your joints over time. Another is that stretching your back puts the fluid within your joints under pressure, creating vapor-filled pockets within your joints.

“Regardless of why it’s there, stretching or trying to crack your back releases this gas, which sometimes results in an audible popping or cracking sound,” says Dr. Kenneth Palmer, an orthopedic surgeon at Houston Methodist.

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Why Does Your Back Crack

There are a number of a reasons that your back can crack, but its believed to typically the result of gases like nitrogen and carbon dioxide being put under pressure in the joints of your spine and forming bubbles.

Notice we said typically. Heres the thing: no one is exactly sure why your joints pop when you put pressure on them.

Way back in the day , two doctors at St. Thomas Hospital in London tried to figure out why joints crack. To do this, they tied a string around the fingers of several volunteers fingers and pulled until they heard the knuckle crack and captured it all using x-ray images.

In the end, they found that a popping sound occurs when two joint surfaces are pulled apart with enough tension to cause a rapid drop in pressure within the synovial fluid and forms a gaseous bubble in the cavity.

This conclusion has been hotly disputed over the years because, 24 years after it was reached, researchers performed a second study using similar methods and decided that it was the gas bubble in the joint bursting, not forming, that made the tell-tale popping sound. The devil is in the details, right?

The results? Kawchuck said his findings the original 1947 study.


Well to put it simply, your joints make a cracking sound when a bubble forms. Typically, this happens when tension mounts in a joint to the point where synovial fluid rapidly accumulates and cavitation occurs.

Heres another, closer look at a joint cracking using ultrasound technology:

What Happens When You Crack Your Knuckles

The need to pop your joints is a medical mystery. No one really knows why this phenomenon exists or its purpose. The mechanics behind joints cracking is well understood, though. A joint is an intersection where two bones connect. The human body has around 360 joints that bring bones together to form a skeleton that is able to bend and move freely.

Joints are surrounded by a membrane full of fluid. The membrane serves to protect the bone caps from friction damage as you move. When you yank on a joint trying to pop it, you create negative space that pulls in some of the fluid. That popping sound that makes Mom cringe is the influx of that fluid.

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Safely Cracking Your Back

If you feel the need to crack your back often, there is likely an underlying problem that needs to be treated by a professional. Even if you do so safely, the repeated need to relieve pressure is an indication of misalignment in the spine. While you wait for your appointment, there are a number of exercises you can use to elicit the same relief, stretch your back muscles, and promote healing in the back. Some examples are below. If any of these cause pain, stop immediately and see a chiropractor.

The Truth And The Myth Behind The Cracking Knuckles Debate

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Cracking your knuckles may aggravate the people around you, but it probably won’t raise your risk for arthritis. That’s the conclusion of several studies that compared rates of hand arthritis among habitual knuckle-crackers and people who didn’t crack their knuckles.

The “pop” of a cracked knuckle is caused by bubbles bursting in the synovial fluid the fluid that helps lubricate joints. The bubbles pop when you pull the bones apart, either by stretching the fingers or bending them backward, creating negative pressure. One study’s authors compared the sudden, vibratory energy produced during knuckle cracking to “the forces responsible for the destruction of hydraulic blades and ship propellers.”

Even if knuckle cracking doesn’t cause arthritis, there’s still good reason to let go of the habit. Chronic knuckle-cracking may lead to reduced grip strength. And there are at least two published reports of injuries suffered while people were trying to crack their knuckles.

For more information on keeping your hand healthy, nimble, and strong, buy Hands: Strategies for Strong, Pain-Free Hands, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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What About When You Crack Other Joints

Theres something so satisfying about a good back crack. But does that have the potential to produce negative side effects, too?

Cracking your back every now and then probably wont lead to much joint laxity, according to Husni. And that holds true for other things you might crack.

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Still, I really think that everyone has a different threshold for joint laxity, Husni says. Some people, she explains, are born with more hypermobility than others. Because they have that existing looseness, they need to be a bit more careful. Joint crackingan extra push outside the joints normal range of motionmight cause pain sooner for those individuals.

Back Cracking And Arthritis

A common warning people hear when they crack their back is that if they continue cracking their back, they will develop arthritis. Cracking your joints does not cause arthritis, nor does it cause joint enlargement. When a person visits a chiropractor, the chiropractor will adjust their back, often cracking it to ease symptoms of arthritis. That being said, if a person tries to crack their own back or if they have an untrained person do it, they could aggravate their joints, which will lead to stiffness or swelling.

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