The question of whether it is safe to crack yourself is something I get asked almost every day as a chiropractor. Some amount of cracking in the body is completely normal and is just a tight muscle or tendon rubbing over the bone. On the other hand, there are some things that are not normal or even safe. Let’s look a little deeper into the joints and try to see what’s right and what’s not.
Although the question of whether cracking your knuckles leads to arthritis or not has been somewhat dispelled, this is what you need to know about arthritis. The word arthritis means inflammation of a joint. Inflammation occurs from a variety of means and could stem from some arduous activity done one day, chronic activities done over a lifetime or even chemically induced due to a poor diet or exposure to other environmental triggers.
If your joints are inflamed from an intense workout or helping a friend move furniture or some other unusual activity, some ice on the affected joint for 15 minutes every hour for a few hours should do the trick. Chemical or environmental triggers can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint, which is the reasoning behind avoiding inflammatory foods like gluten, soy, dairy and sugar whenever possible.
Now let’s look at the chronic arthritis brought on by repetitive actions and poor posture. When most people think about arthritis, they picture an elderly person with gnarled fingers, in seemingly constant pain as they knit a blanket to stay warm. Someone who has a physical job where they do the same thing day after day to parts of their bodies will most likely cause premature degeneration of those joints being used. Sitting at a desk and looking slightly downward at the screen or constant usage of a mobile phone or book reading (Who does that?) will cause arthritic degeneration of the neck. And if you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of arthritis in the neck before, it’s because most MD’s consider it to be a normal part of the aging process. When you place abnormal forces on a joint for long periods of time, those joints start to deform. This is known as Wolff’s Law. You lose bone in some places and begin to form extra bone in places where it shouldn’t be which can lead to joint fusion and therefore, substantial loss of mobility in those joints.
Let’s get back to the difference between cracking and adjusting. Cracking is the simple manipulation of a joint by any means and could happen intentionally or unintentionally. We could turn our heads to the side and hear a crack. So, what cracked? Your response to this question should be, “I don’t know!” because you don’t. I can feel something is not properly aligned in my back, but it’s difficult for me to determine exactly what the issue is because as soon as I reach behind me to feel my back, the simple act of twisting has already distorted the alignment. In order to objectively figure out where and what the misalignment actually is, your body must first be in a neutral position. This is why a chiropractor will evaluate a person while they are lying on their stomach or back or sitting straight. Once the
chiropractor is able to determine the exact position of the bone/joint in question, then they can figure out how best they can make the correction properly and safely. This correction is called an adjustment.
Anyone can crack something- intentionally or unintentionally. These “cracks” can be safe or harmful, but there is no way to tell quickly. Chiropractors deliver precise corrections to reduce subluxations or misalignments throughout the body. This is done in a safe and calculated manner to only the bones/joints that require it. The rest are left alone and not moved just for the heck of it. Find it, fix it, leave it alone.