Cracking Joints – Why do they make that noise?
At some point, you may have noticed a loud popping noise coming from your knees when you kneel down. Or perhaps you have experienced cracking joints in other areas such as the back or neck or ankles.
When it happens it can be quite disconcerting. But do bear in mind that it is relatively common.
It is not always caused by the same thing. Sometimes it can be attributed to the movement of tendons over the bone. On other occasions, it is related to a sudden release of gas bubbles from the fluid that lubricates your joints (known as synovial fluid). This tends to happen when the joint capsule gets stretched out.
On the whole, you are more likely to experience this popping sound in the joints as you get older. This might be related to the fact that cartilage tends to wear down with age, meaning that tendons are more likely to rub over bone.
But should you be concerned?
Should you be concerned about cracking joints
For the most part, the noise is not a cause for concern. However, if you experience any pain or swelling along with the popping sensation it is worth getting the issue looked at further.
This is because the discomfort might be related to abnormalities in the joint such as loose cartilage or damage to ligaments. You should also be a little bit wary if the joint locks up or gets stuck when the cracking occurs. In that instance, it is worth getting it checked out.
Some people worry in case there is a connection with the joints cracking and osteoarthritis. Certainly, this is a rumour that does the rounds. But so far there isn’t any serious suggestion or compelling evidence that the joints popping will lead to arthritis.
What happens when your therapist ‘cracks’ your joints?
Another occasion when you might experience the popping sensation of your joints is when you receive a treatment with a physiotherapist or osteopath.
Rest assured, that in the hands of a qualified professional, this is perfectly normal and beneficial.
These manual therapists are actually employing a technique known as High-Velocity Thrust (HVT). It might sound a bit scary, but it is safe, reasonably gentle and doesn’t cause pain. The goal of the technique is to restore normal movement and function to a joint or limb. This is done by taking the joint slightly further than it used to going, but certainly no further than it is capable of going.
Many patients actually feel very invigorated when this technique is applied.
The cracking of the joint on this occasion is caused by the release of the gas bubbles, mainly carbon dioxide from the joint.
Ironically, some patients are disappointed if they don’t experience the popping of the joints or the cracking noise. However, the joint is often released even without the accompanying sound.
So the next time your therapist sorts out your joint stiffness, rest assured they can do this with or without the need for snap, crackle, and pop!