Will cracking my joints give me arthritis?

We talked a lot about even joint space this last weekend at Yoga Teacher Training.

Well, to be honest we talk a lot about it ALL the time. What I mean by even joint space is that the bones move in even relationship to each other, rather than there being increased space in one part of the joint and compression in another part.

The reason that we encourage people to move in even joint space is that if you constantly have more compression or friction in one place, you end up with inflammation in your joints.

And inflammation in your joints is osteoarthritis.

Which brings me to the question of whether cracking your joints will cause osteoarthritis.

One of the trainees is also a chiropractic student (which is really cool I think!) and we had a discussion around this.

Short answer is: there is no conclusive evidence that it does.

In fact, we are only now starting to figure out what even MAKES that cracking or popping sound. Good ole Wikipedia has a nice summary:

According to a folk belief, the popping of joints, especially knuckles, leads to arthritis or other joint problems. However, medical research has so far failed to conclusively demonstrate any connection between knuckle cracking and long-term joint problems.
The physical mechanism that causes the cracking sound as a result of bending, twisting, or compressing joints is uncertain. Suggested causes include:
  • Cracking sounds occur when bubbles form in joints as they are pulled apart
  • Cavitation within the joint—small cavities of partial vacuum form in the synovial fluid and then rapidly collapse, producing a sharp sound.
  • Rapid stretching of ligaments.
  • Intra-articular (within-joint) adhesions being broken.

 

BUT. If you crack a lot, it can be a flag that your alignment isn’t as optimal as it could be.

All the situations above are more likely to happen when you are moving in uneven joint space. And while there is no evidence that cracking your joints does any harm, as our chiropractic student says, she has to study for five years to be able to do that, so perhaps it’s best you don’t randomly do it to yourself too much.

I’d suggest that instead you work on releasing long held tension and bringing yourself closer to plumb.

If you persistently feel the need to crack a body part, it’s an indicator to look more closely at your mechanics and patterns of tension, particularly in that area.