Why Do Joints Pop and is it Bad for Bone Health?

Posted by Bethaney Wallace on 30th Jan 2014

Hearing the sound of cracking knuckles can put a person instantly on edge. It’s one of those habits some find addicting, and others want to remove from social norms altogether. Depending on your willingness to hear the regular pop, it could be a sweet form of relief, or the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

The reasoning behind this habit, however – whether loved or hated – comes as somewhat controversial. There are many theories that explain how or why joints crack. And despite the long-running myth that regular pops can lead to arthritis, this isn’t one of them. Though it may be hard to believe, popping one’s joints – even over a long period of time – doesn’t cause pain or other harmful side effects. The popping itself may hurt or irritate joints (more on this later), but after the fact, its side effects are minimal. No matter what your grandmother always told you (or what you always tell your grandkids), joint popping isn’t harmful. Rude, maybe. But it won’t cause arthritis or milder pains in the least.

But just as it’s not harmful, it’s not helpful either – unless you count the feeling of satisfaction once all of your joints have “popped”.

Why Joints “Pop” and Crack

Doctors and researchers alike have long since been looking for a reason behind our cracking joints. And while not all agree (at least in the sound-making part), it’s been found that negative pressure pulls in nitrogen gas, but only for a short period of time. This then “pops” the joint, though some doctors believe there’s more to it. For instance, what causes this scientific exchange to take place at all? Why are some pops louder than others? And why do some joints pop multiple times in one setting – whether at once or in short succession of one another?

However, if there is pain when cracking one’s joints, it could be a sign of an underlying symptom. Such as abnormalities already present in the joint, or a weakened structure. Often this can mean previous injuries, loosened cartilage, or ligaments that have been strained or pulled. Even if you weren’t aware of the injury. Also, those who do suffer from arthritis can experience additional joint pain from cracking, as the sudden jarring can put excess pressure on the already inflamed areas.

If this occurs, you should talk to your doctor about bone and joint health, as well as what action(s) you should take. While minor pain usually indicates only minor injuries, it’s always best to hear from an expert to ensure nothing serious is hidden within your joints.

The Results of Knuckle Cracking

The longer one continues to pop his or her joints, the more likely they are to continue the habit. Not only does it become easier for joints to crack – even taking place involuntarily – the need for the post-cracked joint grows. Whether just a habit or joints actually “need” that air release, it’s been proven that the more it’s done, the more a patient continues to pop.

For many, this is a great incentive to never start popping in the first place. Some joints, however, create the crack on their own – usually after injury or excessive use. As for those doing it voluntarily, take solace in the fact that, despite popular belief, arthritis – and other medical complications – are not created by joint popping alone. Rather, the injuries can be identified should pain or swelling take place.

No matter your stance on popping knuckles, it’s a good idea to have a proper understanding of the cause and effects. From myths, to diagnoses, to social acceptance, remember these joint-related facts for all your joint-popping discussions.