Cracking joints is one of those habits that tends to fall into a grey area for health and wellness. Knuckle cracking, for example, is a common stress response that produces a popping sound, and may even offer some physical relief in the joints of the hands.
But what exactly happens when habitual knuckle crackers keep up this habit for years and years on end? Is it a harmless nervous habit, or are there real risk factors and side effects to be concerned about? How about cracking larger joints like those in the knees, shoulders, or spine?
In this article, we’re going to figure out the real source of the snapping sound when joints crack and offer some advice to avoid joint problems in the long term.
What exactly is joint cracking?
Joint cracking, also known in the medical world as crepitus, refers to a phenomenon where joints are manipulated to produce an audible popping or cracking sound.
The main theory of joint cracking has to do with synovial fluid, the lubricating material found in joints that keeps them flexible and functional. Through repetitive movements and pressure, tiny gas bubbles can form in the joint fluid. When pressure is applied at certain angles, these bubbles pop to produce an audible sound and a satisfying feeling of negative pressure in the affected area.
An alternative theory of joint cracking relates to the movement of tendons or ligaments that surround and support certain joints. In some cases, these structures can become misaligned, and cracking sounds are produced when they are snapped back into place. This is less common, but may be cause for concern in larger joints like the hips, shoulders, or spine.
Because there are still competing theories on the subject of joint cracking, it’s important to seek personalized medical advice instead of self-diagnosing or leaping to too many conclusions of your own.
Why do people crack their joints?
Everyone has a unique experience with joint cracking, and there are many different reasons why people do it.
Most commonly, people crack their joints—typically in the knuckles and fingers—to provide temporary relief from feelings of tension, stiffness, or discomfort.
The buildup of synovial fluid can be uncomfortable and reduce the range of motion in the fingers, so cracking joints is a common way to “warm up” the hands before performing tasks for work, creative pursuits, or athletic activities. Think of baseball pitchers cracking their knuckles before the game or guitarists wringing out their wrists before performing.
If you can occasionally crack your joints in a mindful way to achieve greater mobility and prepare for a physical feat, it’s probably not an issue to fixate on. However, some people find that cracking joints becomes a compulsive habit they can’t control, which indicates a deeper issue.
For example, you may find that you unconsciously crack the joints in your knuckles when confronted with a stressful or uncertain situation. Even if there is no physical threat, some people crack their knuckles in nervous social settings.
This is a similar phenomenon to biting nails, fidgeting, or doing other nervous habits that offer a sense of psychological relief, rather than any real physical benefit. These behaviors can sometimes be difficult to detect and evaluate from a first-person perspective, because we don’t register how often we do them.
This goes to show that joint cracking is a more complex issue than you may have thought. Try to step back and objectively assess why, when, and how you crack your joints to determine if you’re doing so in a healthy or unhealthy way.
Can joint cracking impact joint health?
The buildup of air in synovial fluid is unavoidable, but is habitual knuckle cracking actually a bad thing? Medical advice on the subject varies based on individual symptoms and experiences.
The latest news from the medical world suggests that joint cracking is generally harmless in most cases, but every person is unique. Applying negative pressure to joints in the knuckles or toes is usually nothing to worry about as long as it doesn’t result in additional discomfort or other joint problems over time.
However, the more complex the joint, the more of an issue cracking can become. The consistent popping of the hip or shoulder joint, for instance, might suggest that the tendons or ligaments of these structures are misaligned or suffering from weak surrounding musculature.
Plus, cracking of the neck joints or vertebrae might indicate underlying back issues, which can lead to bigger problems down the road.
Another point to consider is your overall health history and persistent issues with certain joints and body parts. If you’re recovering from injury, for example, it’s probably wise to take a break from cracking joints in that area if you can help it.
Even if an injury isn’t severe and you’re simply trying to reduce discomfort or strengthen certain muscles (think hips, neck, or low back), cracking joints should not be your focus. Instead, the slow and steady regeneration of strength and support in these areas is a smarter priority.
Like all medical issues, joint cracking should be assessed on an individual basis, and you shouldn’t hesitate to consult a medical professional if you have concerns about your joint health, present or future. Keep in mind that many people have a psychological element associated with joint cracking, so you may consider addressing issues of stress or nervousness along with any physical discomfort you experience.
How does CBD impact joint health?
There is no single fix to cracking joints, and in many cases, there’s no root problem to raise concerns. However, if you suspect that joint cracking and popping are leading to the deterioration of your joint health—or you just want to limit the habit—cannabidiol (CBD) might offer some benefits to help your cause.*
CBD is a natural cannabinoid, a compound from the hemp plant with many therapeutic effects. It’s non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t produce a high. Still, it interacts with receptors throughout the endocannabinoid system that can support joint health in several ways.
Let’s check out how CBD might help make your joints healthier while possibly reducing the urge to crack joints more than you should.
Tension is a core cause of joint cracking, whether on a physical or psychological level. You may feel tension in your fingers or joints before typing at your keyboard, picking up a barbell, or jamming on your favorite instrument. With CBD, you bring balance to your ECS, soothing some of the tension buildup in joints, muscles, and supporting structures.
While some tension is good for staying alert and primed to perform, too much can do more harm than good. CBD, especially full spectrum tinctures, helps keep tension at a manageable, sustainable level. This allows you to do what you love while staying flexible and capable.*
A bit of tension can typically be handled, but what about when it turns to discomfort or a more severe problem? This is the dark side of joint health that we want to prevent in the first place, but CBD can also reduce discomfort when it becomes too much to bear.
Maybe your discomfort is the result of constant joint cracking through the years, or popping joints with an excessive amount of pressure on a given area. CBD in the form of a topical cream can target the source of discomfort in joints and get you back on track with your goals.*
Supporting a healthy stress response
Life is going to throw stressful situations your way, no matter where you’re at. If cracking joints is your immediate and involuntary response, it might be time to address how you deal with stress and try CBD to help maintain emotional and physiological balance.
CBD, combined with other cannabinoids and terpenes, can support your mood and sense of inner stability, which can help keep your habits and routines on track.* A feeling of control over your actions and responses to external events can be an invaluable asset in overall health, well-being, and quality of life.
We recommend starting with a simple on-the-go water soluble hemp extract that supports clarity and control in your daily life.* By addressing both the physical and mental sides of joint health and habits, you’re finally back in the driver’s seat.*
The bottom line
Joint cracking is a simple idea with complex implications. On one hand, relieving pressure from joints is an innocuous habit with few risk factors. On the other, you may find that years of chronic or improper cracking can lead to problems with joint health, mobility, and more.
The answer is to take a step back, address the issues in a healthy way, and consider giving CBD a try gain physical and emotional balance. Sunmed is here with all the resources you need to stay on track and keep your joints safe for years and years to come.*