Cracking joints, popping, clicking, noisy, snapping. Sounds familiar? For many of us, these are the sounds our joints make when we ease our way into certain asanas, or just simply as we move about during the day. For a few of us, the voices that are unique to our physiology can also be alarming , or even annoying, but for most, it is a habitual thing we get used to at some point in our lives.We all have, or will sooner or later experience various degrees of stiffness in our joints, resulting in cracking, noisy joints or popping sounds when mobilized. Unless you are a newborn baby (and how lucky if you are), muscle and joint stiffness is an inevitable part of the aging process. It is not uncommon for stiff joints to crack during morning yoga practice when the overnight buildup of interstitial fluids (fluids which accumulate between tissue spaces) and dormant muscular energy can still be felt.
Elbows, knees, vertebrae, fingers and toes are all subject to an unexpected “snap”, “pop” or “crack,” unless of course we go into our asanas in a very gentle and purposeful way. Even then, for some yogis, crouching down to a delicious sacrum-opening squat (like Malasana) almost always results in a sharp crack shooting right out from the knees.
However some yogis may intentionally produce these mysterious noises. For example, by standing in tadasana and placing both hands on your sacrum while taking a slight back bend, one can easily create a single crack or series of cracks all along the spine as you bend deeper. This is likened to the spinal adjustment your chiropractic delivers, which for some is tied to a sense of relief and release. Of course, this kind of adjustment would not be recommended for everyone.
So what causes these crazy sounds (cracking joints) to emanate from our physical bodies? Well, according to orthopedic surgeons, one theory is that the ligaments that connect bone to bone make these noises as they cross over the joints every time you move. Another theory is that tiny bubbles of gas accumulate around a joint, and when these gases are released, joint cracking occurs. Whatever the real cause is, it seems that we are reminded of the divinity of our physical bodies, and of our fascinating human anatomy, whenever these sounds arise from inside of us.
Since we don’t completely understand this phenomenon, at least in the sense of allopathic or “Western medicine,” does it mean we can go on cracking forever? In other words, is it harmful to continuously engage in this symphony of snaps, crackles and pops (cracking joints)? After all, some people will habitually do the old knuckle cracking, toe cracking or whatever maneuver that feels good to them.
Well, medical research has yet to discover the long-term negative effects of cracking joints. Even the popular notion that joint cracking may lead to arthritis in the long run has no scientific basis. The only time you should be worried is if you experience pain, swelling or decreased function, or if the joint gets stuck or locked when it pops or cracks. These signs could mean that there is a more serious underlying issue that necessitates immediate medical attention.
Otherwise, there is not much to worry or ponder over. As common sense would dictate, you should seek medical attention if something does not feel right or feels different than usual.
So go ahead fellow yogi, go deep with your ustrasana, malasana; and don’t be afraid to work your edge, even if it means you gotta pop it, crack it, click it or snap it. After all, you are not dislocating a joint or anything…?