There’s a couple of options here, joints crack during normal joint movement and when passively forced within their limits, what we would call a manipulation.
Firstly, normal joint cracking – this happens when soft tissues such as ligaments and tendons rub over bony prominences. If you have some joint degeneration, wear and tear/OA, the joint surfaces are no longer as smooth as they were when you were a teeny bopper and this can result in audible cracking/creaking/rice crispy like sensations, known as Crepitus. Most common in the knee joint when going up and down stairs. This can be painful if the joint is inflamed so if you’re experiencing this, it may be an idea to get checked out by a Physio to look at improving joint control.
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Another form of cracking is cavitation, like cracking your fingers, knuckles or neck, this can happen in natural movement but is more so associated with manipulation of a stiff joint.
What is Cavitation? – A manipulation causes the joint surfaces to separate slightly, the noise you hear is the release of gaseous bubbles in the joints synovial fluid when the manipulation causes a decrease in joint pressure. Like a localised stretch at a joint!
Self-manipulation wrists, fingers, necks, backs – we’ve all done it. Feels good doesn’t it? The relief you get is often instant, however it doesn’t last long and that stiffness will build back up. It’s fine to self-manipulate, but it can become a habit, this is where it can cause problems and become less effective, such as the joint becomes too mobile and lacks control.
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WARNING – be careful if self-manipulating your neck or back, best advice would be to get yourself assessed by a qualified Physio/Chiropractor/Osteopath, there’s a lot of nerves and blood vessels around these joints which if manipulated improperly could do more harm than good!
Clicking, clunking and PAIN associated with a trauma…STOP! If you’ve had a slip, trip, fall or sports injury and feel a popping or clicking or any joint deformity, get it assessed. This is NOT normal.
So, to recap, joints click, its normal behaviour in the absence of any trauma.
The problem occurs when the joint itself is irritated (swollen, red, hot), if this is the case get it assessed by a Physio. Sometimes joints need a manipulation if they’re particularly stiff and this is always best carried out by a qualified professional who has an understanding of the underlying anatomy and joint mechanics but will also provide you with home exercises to help you improve joint mobility and /or control.
If in doubt, get it checked!
If you have any joint cracking related queries, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org where one of our Physio team will be more than happy to get back to you!