It always put a smile on my face. A beginning Thai Massage student is giving a massage and maybe performing a hip stretch or another joint mobilization and all of the sudden there is a loud popping sound. The student has a big scare, looks at me and ask me: “did I do something wrong?”. I say: ” I don’t know”, turn to the student who is receiving the massage and ask: “can you still move your hip?” , She says yes. And I say; “well I think we are lucky this time”.
Of course this is a joke, normally when a joint pops, cracks, makes a noise there is nothing to worry about. Joints are just making sounds. But there is a lot of misunderstanding about joint popping, lot of people feel a joint should not pop and that it is dangerous. Hopefully this blog can shed a bit of light and take away the misconceptions and fear around joint popping, cracks. First let state the golden rule:
If you experience a joint noise that is accompanied by pain, swelling, or an acute injury, you should see a medical professional to have the joint evaluated. However, if your joint noise is pain-free and asymptomatic (which the vast majority of bodily joint noises are), there is no reason for concern.
Crepitus is the medical term that refers to joint noises. Examples of joint crepitus can include clicking, popping, snapping, clunking, and more. And like I stated before most of the time there is nothing to worry about.
It is a question that I get very often from Yoga students or from Thai massage clients. People tend to get worried when their body start to make strange noises. “For sure there must be something wrong with my knee, because last week it did not pop”. Sometimes this also encouraged by massage therapist, yoga teachers, body-workers who are stating that there is a dysfunction in the body, a weakness, an instability, a stiffness and in worse case stating that you should find help because your joints are degenerating.
I remember that my mother used to say do not crack your joints because you will get arthritis. I am sorry Mom this is just not true, because let’s look what science says.
What does science says about cracking joints?
Like everybody is different, the same it will be with cracking. Some bodies crack more easily than other bodies, but that does not mean that there is problem (as long as it is not accompanied by pain and/or swelling) with the body that cracks more. There might even be a case to make that the body that cracks more is healthier.
The exact reason why there is the clicking or popping of joints is still not known 100%, but there is agreement that anatomical structures (bones, bones and tendons) are making contact can create the sound and also the formation or collapse of air bubbles within joint cavities [Ref]
There is a great study being done with cracking and popping of the knees, where in a population of 250 individuals with healthy knees 99% had knees that were making sounds. That is how common knee noises are. Basically there was no correlation found between unhealthy knees and clicking sounds [Ref].
On the contrary the same study suggest that knees that making noises are actually healthier. The idea is that there is one type of knee sound that specifically happens in joints that are mobile and well-lubricated. As a knee becomes arthritic and starts to lose mobility, this type of crepitus actually decreases. So when this sound is absent, it can be a sign of an unhealthy joint with arthritis and decreased joint lubrication – not the other way around! (ref)
Here I took the example of the knee, but it is the same in regard to other joints. A popping of the hips is normally the result of either the psoas tendon moving across a bony prominence on the front of the pelvis, or the iliotibial band moving over the greater trochanter of the femur. And again nothing to worry about. This is a great quote:
“Snapping caused by the iliopsoas tendon… is a common incidental observation that often requires little treatment on the part of the clinician other than assurance to the patient that this finding is not a harbinger of future problems” [Evaluation and Management of the Snapping Iliopsoas Tendon (Byrd 2006)].
So the next time a Yoga students or a Thai Massage client ask you about popping or cracking of joints you can tell them not to worry about it, that there is nothing wrong with them, that their joint are just healthy. Of course with the exception when the popping is accompanied with swelling or pain; then of course refer them to a specialist.
I hoped that this was helpful, it is possible to leave a comment below. If you are interested we have special course; advanced stretching an joint mobilizations