Is joint cracking harmful?
December 16, 2004 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Every freaking joint in my body cracks, and I have a (pseudo-) neurotic need to do so on a daily basis. With the knuckles, it's just habit; with the neck and back, I genuinely feel very stiff unless I do so. Am I damaging my body in some way? Most of the advice I've heard on this issue has been from people with an agenda (i.e., they are annoyed by it) so I don't trust them.

Previously noted here, but didn't see the answer to my specific question.
posted by norm to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have always cracked my joints including neck, back, wrists, fingers, toes, elbows, knees, and anything else I can reach. Once I was diagnosed with pretty severe arthritis I asked my rheumatologist about it. She said, and I trust her on this since she is the President of the American College of Rheumatology, that popping your joints has ZERO damage to joints. She said if it feels good, to go ahead and do it.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 11:40 AM on December 16, 2004 [1 favorite]

I do this to. I have asked an MD and my chiropractor about it and they say it's fine.
posted by arse_hat at 12:00 PM on December 16, 2004

I've always been curious about this too, since conventional wisdom is that cracking your knuckles hurts you in some way -- all sports doctors I've asked, very good ones, guys who care for pro athletes, told me that there is no risk of damage. it may be annoying but it's only gas/air/I don't remember what moving around noisily in your joints

I'm sure if you google a bit you'll find it
posted by matteo at 12:03 PM on December 16, 2004

I crack my ankles daily and they don't feel right until I do. I sprained them both a couple of years ago and lost the ability to crack them for about a year. They were so stiff and sore during that time... I asked my physical therapist, during my recovery, what cracking is and does. He said that no one really knows to this day, but people report it doesn't hurt, feels good, and no one's ever proven it to cause long term damage.

There are competing theories about whether it's tendons snapping across bone or pockets of gas expanding, but I don't think it matters much in the end. Crack your joints as needed - but don't be obsessive about it. You may need to put stress on the joint to make it happen, and that can add up to a bad habit eventually.
posted by scarabic at 12:06 PM on December 16, 2004

What causes the noise when you crack a joint?
What makes your knuckles pop?
What causes the noise we hear when we crack our knuckles or pop other joints? I've read that the sound comes from the release of gas bubbles. If so, what sort of gas bubbles are they, and how can releasing them possibly make so much noise?
posted by matteo at 12:08 PM on December 16, 2004

Glad to see this question, as I do this too. People have been feeding me that "You'll develop arthritis!!!!!!" crap for years. But what they don't seem to get - if I don't pop my joints, my fingers/neck/back get stiff to the point where I just can't move normally. Thanks for the reassurance.
posted by vignettist at 12:08 PM on December 16, 2004

I can hardly move without my back cracking.
posted by kenko at 12:10 PM on December 16, 2004

I don't buy conventional wisdom on this one, they say is is gas / air moving around in your joints, but I think it habitual cracking of joints *does* cause damage. My joints never cracked as a child... did yours? There was a period of time when I started cracking my neck by moving my head back. Soon, I had to do this all the time to prevent stiffness and allow me full range of motion. As soon I gradually stopped doing it all the time though, it never *had* to be done anymore. I think the more you crack your joints, the more often you will have to continually do it, and I know a lot of habitual joint crackers that have arthritis, and I really do believe there is a strong connection there. My personal philosophy is that if it's a natural movement and my joints crack, that's fine... but I will not move intentionally to make a joint crack.
posted by banished at 12:15 PM on December 16, 2004

I pop my manubriosternum. Yes, there's a small joint there.

Banished: I'm not aware of any data to support your claim.
posted by gramcracker at 12:22 PM on December 16, 2004

Its actually good for you. It stretches the joints, ligaments and tendons through the full range of motion. Unless you do it to excess its not much differnt than yoga or a stretching routine before a workout.
posted by Fupped Duck at 12:23 PM on December 16, 2004

Don't stretch before a workout.
But it's ok to crack your joints.
You don't have to warm up, though.
posted by metaculpa at 12:40 PM on December 16, 2004

I believe it's synovial fluid in the joints. Not that that tells you what the gas is in it. Nitrogen?

/no idea
posted by Alt F4 at 1:00 PM on December 16, 2004

I pop my manubriosternum. Yes, there's a small joint there.

Hey, I thought I was the only freak who did that. Damn but that is a weird, vaguely disturbing sensation.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:10 PM on December 16, 2004 [1 favorite]

I pop my manubriosternum. Yes, there's a small joint there.

Hey, I thought I was the only freak who did that.

Me too!

I crack my neck on a regular basis, and have asked my father (a neurologist) whether I'm going to end up unable to move my head. He said "No, but for god's sake would you please not do it around me?"

On the other hand, every once in a while I crack my neck and my right arm tingles. That always weirds me out.
posted by gleuschk at 1:13 PM on December 16, 2004 [1 favorite]

Me too, gramcracker! I've never heard of anyone else doing that.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:14 PM on December 16, 2004

Upon preview, I see that there are at least four of us freaks out there. Sweet.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:15 PM on December 16, 2004

Alt F4, according to this, it's mostly carbon dioxide and some nitrogren.
I would like to add my name to the list of freaks, as I crack the ol' manu-whatchamacallit on a regular basis, too.
posted by bachelor#3 at 1:17 PM on December 16, 2004

Uh, yeah, make that six, Mr. M. Pie...
posted by vignettist at 1:18 PM on December 16, 2004

Erm. 7.

Although, I have yet to find the joint on me that doesn't crack when I stretch in the morning.
posted by icey at 1:28 PM on December 16, 2004

I have a hypothesis that I crack more when poorly hydrated, but I'm not sufficiently obsessive to track average urine color and number of cracks per hour in Excel.
posted by callmejay at 1:39 PM on December 16, 2004

That makaes at least eight of us.

I thought I had broken something the first time. It still feels strange, but I've gotten used to it.
posted by bh at 1:44 PM on December 16, 2004

What the heck is a manubriowhatsis? The link above thumbed its nose at me....
posted by spilon at 1:57 PM on December 16, 2004

Make that nine of us, may sound odd but it feels good when it happens.

I go through phases. When I was a teen I did it a lot and had the same feeling scarabic did - just didn't feel right if I didn't do it - then I stopped the habit for whatever reason. I don't crack them intentionally any more - not sure why.
posted by squeak at 1:59 PM on December 16, 2004

Ten. Although I learned I could do it when I was taking a CPR class and pushed on my own chest to "feel the give" of the sternum. A sharp crack scared the hell out of my instructor and learning partner.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 2:17 PM on December 16, 2004

Make that 11. Freaks the wife out when I do it too. Then again, she claims her joints never cracked before we met, so maybe it's contagious
posted by jeribus at 2:20 PM on December 16, 2004

12. But my mother flies into vicious rages if I do it around her.
posted by u.n. owen at 2:42 PM on December 16, 2004

Nothing cracks on me, and I'm very suspicious of people who crack their parts (are they a different species?). But I doubt it will hurt you much.
posted by rushmc at 2:45 PM on December 16, 2004

I'm glad to know it's okay- I've been cracking everything for years (though not my manubriosternum, at least, I don't think so- I'm not sure what it is!) Everything is fair game though and as stated above, the pain and stiffness if I don't makes me so miserable. The trick is figuring out how to pop everything- from nose to toes.
posted by wallaby at 3:05 PM on December 16, 2004

I'm sure if you google a bit you'll find it

I did and didn't find a good answer.


Yep, this too.

My joints never cracked as a child... did yours?

Yep. I remember them cracking at least as far back as when I was 8.
posted by norm at 3:13 PM on December 16, 2004

The sternum is the anatomical name for the breastbone, and the manubrio is the uppermost part of it.
posted by bonheur at 3:53 PM on December 16, 2004

gleuschk: Be Careful with that. The nerve roots for your arms exit the spinal column at C4-C5, and you can pinch a nerve that way.

exlotuseaters' Cautionary Tale
Cracking alone doesn't do any damage, but I had an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion because of a ruptured disc at C4-C5; The disc had been ruptured for a long while, without my knowing it, and habitual cracking of my neck from side-to-side (which gave me great pleasure) over the course of ~2 years caused so much scarring and osteophytes that the Nerve root became damaged and I lost the use of my left (dominant) arm for several months. I still have neuropathy, and probably always will.

posted by exlotuseater at 5:26 PM on December 16, 2004

I really enjoyed this thing, thanks everybody. seriously. it was interesting

*feels a certain stiffness in his neck and shoulders, worries*
posted by matteo at 6:01 PM on December 16, 2004

when I had lower back surgery, my cracking my back came up with the surgeon. he said unless I needed my back to be extra loose/flexible (gymnastics or something) then there was no need for me to do it.

but man, if I don't, I feel awful. I tried not doing it immediately after my surgery (can't move the back and all) and the urge did not go away. (which is when I learned how to crack my back without twisting it, bad me)

same with my ankles, neck, wrists, etc. even without trying hard. feels real stiff if it doesn't happen!

oh, and my sternum thing cracks occasionally although I don't know why (I don't try). and it doesn't really feel good when it happens :( I guess it isn't too uncommon.
posted by evening at 6:07 PM on December 16, 2004

This came up in a Mayo Clinic newsletter a while ago, here's the link:

Mayo Clinic - Knuckle cracking: Does it cause arthritis?
posted by invisible ink at 6:30 PM on December 16, 2004

Thirteen. Mine pops when I pull my arms straight back, or when I'm doing behind-the-neck presses.
posted by notsnot at 6:50 PM on December 16, 2004

Mine just started last year--about this time, actually.

Manubrium is the top part of your sternum, sternum is the body. It's also known as the Angle of Louis.
posted by gramcracker at 7:00 PM on December 16, 2004 [1 favorite]

Perhaps nobody will read this since I'm jumping in so late in the thread, but this is my first MeFi post, so I figure I might as well chime in where I have expertise.

Indeed you all are right. Cracking knuckles/back/neck/what-have-you causes no harm. A good analogy of what happens is the sound you hear when you snap a suction cup off of a smooth surface. It's the same thing, but with a rush of joint fluid instead of the air under the suction cup.
posted by Dr. Sam at 7:03 PM on December 16, 2004 [1 favorite]

so am i the only weirdo with a strange post-coital (missionary) fetish that involves my girlfriend immediately hugging me tightly after climax, cracking my back?
posted by lotsofno at 7:19 PM on December 16, 2004 [2 favorites]

posted by exlotuseater at 7:31 PM on December 16, 2004 [1 favorite]

Y'know how whenever you see someone putting on chapstick you automatically and unconsciously test your own and they begin to feel soooo dry? It's the power of suggestion to the tenth power, can't fight the subconscious and all that jazz.
Yeah, thanks y'all. Now I have an unavoidable urge to crack each and every one of my bones. And yes, I also can crack my manuwhatever. It freaks my yoga classmates out like nothing else. Every time we lift our arms over our heads and reeeeach they all flinch.

Lotsofno: That's hot. An aside: spellcheck suggests "Lotion" for "lotsofno." Also hot.
posted by tinamonster at 10:21 PM on December 16, 2004

Fourteen, but it only happens every so often. Almost everything on my cracks, and most of that feels great, and not so great if I don't crack it.
posted by loquacious at 4:34 AM on December 17, 2004

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