Why / When do joints crack?

  • Community Lead

    This info was dissected from the article from The SpineCare Chiropractic group titled Don't Crack Your Neck!.

    1. Joints move. Okay, you knew that already. The point is that your spine is made up of many vertebrae, each of which articulates (forms joints with) the vertebra above and the vertebra below. The joints in the spine do not have as great a range of motion as do the larger and more mobile joints of the shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees, but because there are 24 moveable segments in the spine, the combined motion of these joints allows us to bend forward and touch our toes (some of us, anyway), look over our shoulders to back the car out of the driveway, and perform nearly all of our daily activities. Without spinal motion people would look like the Tin Man before he found his oil can. Joints move.

    2. Normal joints have normal motion. This may sound like another no-brainer, but neck-crackers have a problem with normal joint motion. There are four phases of motion: active, passive, paraphysiologic - where the "pop" occurs during manipulation - and sprain - where ligaments are injured. This is illustrated in the figure below.

    Active motion is the range in which a person can move a joint unaided. For example, wave your index finger up and down. That's the active range of your second metacarpophalangeal joint (the big knuckle). Now use the fingers of your other hand to move the index finger up and down passively. The passive range of motion should be greater than the active range. Joint mobilization, a treatment used by physical therapists and less commonly by chiropractors, is movement within the passive range of motion.

    3. Why joints pop. Movement through the paraphysiologic zone, the Twilight Zone of joint motion, occurs when the passive range is exceeded but before actual damage can occur. Paraphysiologic motion involves the "play" of a joint, not just further passive motion. This springiness you feel in your knuckle when you gently tug on a finger or push the finger backward to the endrange of passive motion is there because the ligaments have a little give built into them. In the paraphysiologic zone the surfaces of each bone - which don't actually quite touch in a normal joint - move apart slightly further. A sudden and quite temporary vacuum occurs which is just as suddenly filled by gas which has been, up until that moment, saturated in the joint fluid. A popping or cracking noise is produced. This exchange of gas and fluid is called cavitation. It is similar to popping your cheek with your finger; when you push your fingertip out of your mouth quickly, air rushes in to the space suddenly created and makes a pop!

  • Good post - although I find it hard to not crack my neck as it says :lol:

  • That was very similar to a pic i had a link for when i was in a debate with MasterCracker to show that jointcracking is not completely natural.

  • yeah i'm sure someone told me before it is natural, but i dont reckon it is, specially looking at that diagram.

  • Check out my debate with MasterCracker.

    Never really finished but you will see it there.

    Obviously it isn't entirely natural.

  • Where is the link? πŸ™‚

  • It is on one of the threads that has been recently commented on

  • not 'entirely' natural ?
    Countless people crack
    not just by forcing their joints to crack,like doing movements to crack your neck or knuckles or spine.
    But simply cracking throughout the day, walking the stairs, walking the street, driving the car, etc
    So riddle me this :

    If joints crack, Who makes them crack?
    You or nature?

    Or Both?
    Do you consider any other bodily functions not "entirely" natural?
    I challenge you to name me on thing more natural than joint cracking?

    P.S. From dictioanry
    natural |ˈna ch Ι™rΙ™l|
    1 existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind : carrots contain a natural antiseptic that fights bacteria | natural disasters such as earthquakes.

  • Would the word healthy be better than the word natural? I'm with you in saying that cracking your joints can feel great and be a healthy, natural thing, but I think sometimes it can be excessive. For myself, I sometimes crack too much or try to force a crack that doesn't really need to happen, and I don't think that's healthy. For some people who may have stretched and cracked to the point that their joints are too loose and floppy, it is certainly an uncomfortable and annoying thing.

  • I am just defending the simple fact that 'we Naturally crack'
    joints crack, its part of their function
    it's not an accident

    If anything I think trying to suppress or stop joints from cracking is 'unnatural'.

    and will lead to less flexibility, shorter ROM, and tight muscles and tendons that would be easily injured or stressed.

  • i agree mastercracker 😎

  • Yeh we naturally do by everyday movement.

    By putting extra force onto a joint, we are clearly pushing the boundaries and as the picture shows, getting things that we shudnt.

  • this graph is deceiving. Lets choose an action. Say: 'touching your toes', from a standing position. simple enough. (This could also be called spinal flexion or flexion of the spine) :

    Let's iamgine 5 people doing this same action:
    1 soccer player
    2 a couch potato
    3 Blaze
    4 a senior citizen
    5 Master Cracker

    They are all standing tall and begin to bend forward w knees LOCKED and straight. Everyone reaches down on the exhale and goes as far as they can. The soccer player is easily touching the floor, the couch potato just past his knees, Blaze won't do it because he's blogging and doesn't want to 'uncoil the springs" of his leg muscles, the senior can barley reach their knees , and MasterCraker's palms are on the floor and his forehead is below his knees and close to his shins.
    Each person (except Blaze) has a different active Range Of Motion( ROM) that their body and muscle elasticity allow.
    Obviousley the couch potato would strain/sprain if he was pushed to the ROM of the soccer player or me, MC.
    Even MC would strain/sprain if an accident or situation caused him to be forced past his own ROM in to sprain.
    But the soccer players ROM could be twice the range of the Senior, but there are players on his team w ever greater ROM than him without chance of sprain.

    EVERYONE'S ROM IS DIFFERENT AND CIRCUMSTANTIAL. (Note: in the info by the graph the writer says:"but because there are 24 moveable segments in the spine, the combined motion of these joints allows us to bend forward and touch our toes (some of us, anyway), look over our shoulders to back the car.."
    "some of us anyway"
    implying(accidently) that we all have different ROM for an action to begin with

    Increased ROM (without pain) is a sign of a happy healthy and STRONG joint.

    ROM can be easily increased through stretching and massage. if all 5 stretchers did that same stretch 5 times that day on their 5th stretch their ROM will have increased. if they did 5 times a day for 5 days a week it would continue to increase.

    ROM Decreases when a joint is not active or mobilized , for what ever reason. Like laziness , injury, or disease and then is more susceptible
    to strains sprains and injury. If the stretchers stopped stretching 5 times a week there ROM would decrease.

    Sports/physical activities and accidents are usually responsible for Sprains + Strains NOT JOINT CRACKING.

    Ever met someone w a Strain because of Joint cracking?
    Wearing a brace because of Cracking?
    I'm not saying it couldn't happen?
    Or that some one in the world isn't right now?
    After a weekend Crack bender Maybe?

    "I just couldn't stop cracking my neck Doc.I think the springs came uncoiled, and now I can't even hold my head up straight. It's just resting on my shoulder and girls keep laughing at me. You gotta help me Doc."


  • I think if you're experienced at cracking yourself you are very unlikely to get hurt. When I first started cracking my back I did slightly hurt myself by pulling the muscles too hard.

  • same :?

  • I also felt minor aches in my neck and back(spinal twists) before I started stretching daily to strengthen my joints and improve my ROM and by default my cracking.
    I have also lost ROM in my neck from 'sleeping the wrong way'
    had back pain from sitting in the car for long periods of time
    All Normal

    The graph above shows a "sprain" zone
    there are 3 types of sprains(some say 4) mild moderate and severe
    the latter involving swelling even severe swelling and immobilization, w a tear or partial tear of the ligament
    ligaments are REALLY STRONG
    it usually takes an accident or force of momentum to truly "sprain" a ligament

    I don't believe joint cracking could do that.

    Any movement pushed past it's ROM could cause a 'mild sprain"
    like An ache in the neck from cracking your neck 2 fast or 2 hard using the force of momentum,
    But I don't believe you could tear a ligament and Actually sprain your neck, w severe swelling and immobilization, by cracking.

    yes i love talking about joint cracking:roll:
    Don't you πŸ˜‰

Log in to reply