We commonly get questions in our office about all manners of joint noise such as joint cracking, popping, or grinding. Most commonly people ask about joint popping during an adjustment or about people who “crack” their own joints and what that is about. Joint noise is a common occurrence and in most cases is unrelated to any symptom or condition.
Most often people ask us about joint noise due to a concern that such joint cracking, popping, or grinding is either damaging to joints or a sign of a condition going on in that joint. In the majority of cases joint noise is just that, noise. Popping and cracking of joints is typically due to joints being stretched at or near their end range of motion. In a synovial joints the pop comes from the collapse of a vacuum space that exists within the joint capsule. I find that this popping and cracking of joints has no negative or positive effect on said joint, I call it a neutral event. People where told in the past that cracking knuckles caused arthritis, which made no sense to those who understand human physiology, and has been shown to be not the case in recent research. In fact there is evidence that shows popping joints has no impact on clinical outcomes. So according to the literature when chiropractors adjust a joint the popping sound is neither important for a good outcome nor does it hurt anything when it happens. Popping or cracking your own knuckles, neck, back, or other joint similarly has no negative or positive impact on your joint health. I have, though seen one patient in my 8 years who’s back pain was worsened by having a friend “crack” his back so while I say it has little impact that doesn’t meant you can’t make your pain worse by doing it yourself or in our patient’s case when a friend did it.
If your joint noise is a crack or a pop, more than likely it is nothing to be concerned about but if you do have pain with that noise you would do well to have it checked out to be sure. The more common joint noise to be concerned about is grinding or a gravel type feeling and sound on joint movement. Cartilage covers the surface of bones where bones meet to form a joint. The grinding sound occurs as the cartilage breaks down and bone articulates against bone instead of against cartilage. There might not be any pain with this movement but it can be caused by joint arthritis or even a tear in the soft tissue. The time to have a joint looked at is If you have pain with the noise, are losing motion of the joint, if it is swelling or if you are losing function of the joint, then you should seek medical treatment.
The majority of joint noise could be considered “healthy” and nothing to be concerned about, the sound is not always or even usually indicative of a joint problem. There is also nothing clinically relevant about the noise as far as chiropractic care is concerned. There is really no way to prevent the majority of “healthy” joint noise, but proper joint care, like chiropractic care, can reduce your likelihood of developing the problems that would cause painful and unhealthy joint noise.