Can cracking joints be cured?

Do your knuckles or ankles make a ‘popping’ noise? Maybe you click your joints through habit, or while trying to find relief from pain or restriction.

People often believe that cracking joints indicates underlying arthritis, or that popping our joints causes damage. Luckily, this is usually untrue. There are several reasons for this noise, most of which are not harmful.

Tendons, the fibrous ends of our muscles, pass over bone. When we move, they sometimes snap against the bone as they move back into their original position, causing a click as they do so. This is common at the ankle, hip, knee, and in our shoulders. Tight muscles and tendons can be the cause of this, so stretching and practising good posture are important.

Other times the popping sound is produced from inside a joint. As the involved joint moves, the pressure of the gases within it changes. This occurs from the popping of nitrogen bubbles found in the joint space and is the usual cause of the clicks from our knuckles and spine. It is a perfectly safe part of normal joint motion.

Sometimes though, joint noise can indicate arthritis. Technically called crepitus, it may be accompanied by pain and limited function in the involved joint, pain in the nearby muscles, stiffness, swelling and weakness. If you have a joint that cracks and causes pain, it’s important to seek professional advice. Appropriate testing can help to identify whether arthritis is present.

Chiropractors are often asked, “Can cracking joints be cured?” The simple answer is that it depends on what is causing the noise: muscle and tendon tension, nitrogen bubbles, or arthritis. For tight muscles and tendons, adjustments and stretching may help. Those with arthritis will often need support and therapeutic interventions to calm the pain and increase function.

If you have a cracking joint, speak to your chiropractor. An assessment will likely identify the cause. Then, together, you can decide on the most appropriate treatment. Remember though, most joint noise is harmless.

This article first appeared in the March/April edition of ‘Your Chiropractor’. Come into Jowett and Moulton Chiropractors in the Melbourne CBD to grab your copy today.