Will cracking my joints give me arthritis?

There is no evidence that joint manipulation can lead to arthritis. Spinal manipulation is without a doubt an effective natural treatment. However, health is about a balance; most medical treatments that have the power to do good also have the power to do harm, especially when overused. With that in mind, it is not a good practice to manipulate or self-click the joints too often or more than necessary, even though it might feel good at the time.

Dangers of habitually clicking joints

Having said that there is no evidence that cracking joints causes arthritis, there is some suggestion that excessive over-manipulation may cause the joints to become too loose or ‘hypermobile’, with ligament laxity and joint instability.

One doctor has written about the effects of over-manipulation here. For this reason, I never want to give clients more adjustments than they need.

Break the habit of clicking your own joints

Some clients have a habit of self-adjusting their joints, which, when done repeatedly, ceases to be helpful and effectively causes a repetitive strain. One client told me they may adjust their spine, creating audible clicks, seven times a day; that’s about 2,600 times a year. With some of my long-standing clients, I may treat them every couple of weeks (usually less), which would be the equivalent of adjusting the joints just 26 times a year!

It’s all about a balance. It’s not that you can’t occasionally adjust your own joints, but in my experience clients who do simply get into bad habits; it becomes addictive and difficult to stop. I have always approached Chiropractic treatment from the view point of giving the right number of treatments to restore joint health and not manipulating joints when not required.

How to maintain healthy joints and prevent joint sounds

Keep active to help joints stay mobile

Motion is lotion! Movement helps the synovial fluid to move and lubricates the joints. Long periods of inactivity and immobility are unhealthy in so many ways and can cause joints to stiffen and cease.

A healthy diet for healthy joints

Foods such as excessive amounts of red meats can lead to an inflammatory response in our body and joints.

Keep hydrated

Cartilage is approximately 60% water and kept lubricated by our synovial fluid. Dehydration reduces production of synovial fluid and can increase the risk of cartilage wear.

Everything we can do to maintain joint health, keep the muscles relaxed and the joint cartilage lubricated, will help to keep the surfaces smooth and movements quiet, much like a well-serviced bicycle with a clean oiled chain and well adjusted breaks and gears.

Why do joints need to be ‘cracked’ for more than one treatment?

Good question! It depends on your age and the length of time the joint has become stiffened. Joints that have been tight for a long time have become ‘used’ to being stiffer or have a reduced range of movement. When they are adjusted the mobility increases, but the surrounding muscles have adjusted their ‘memory’ to be tighter, so will tend to stiffen up slowly again after treatment, therefore requiring a series of sessions to train the joints and the muscles to re-learn a more relaxed, mobile state.

One of the reasons Chiropractors recommend early treatment is to prevent the muscles and joints from stiffening, thereby reducing the amount of sessions required.

The ‘miracle Chiropractic adjustment’!

It’s great when clients walk in all hunched over and walking out straight, perhaps even after just one treatment. It can seem like a miracle cure – the client is amazed and very happy. It would be great if it always happened like this, but unfortunately it doesn’t.

My experience over thirty years of working as a Chiropractor is that a one-off treatment is likely to work when it’s the first or second time it’s happened, when the client is a bit younger. As clients age, there is more general stiffness and wear in the joints. It’s usual that the condition that once settled instantly then takes longer to get better, with a few more treatments. The sooner treatment is sought, the better the chance of requiring fewer adjustments. I write more about this in the importance of seeking Chiropractic treatment straight away.

Should everyone be adjusted?

The art of Medicine and Chiropractic – knowing when not to treat

Sometimes adjustments are not indicated or advised. As B.J. Palmer, the son of Chiropractic’s founder Daniel Palmer, said: “It is more important to know when not to adjust than when to adjust”. The same concept can be applied, in fact, to many medical treatments. In certain cases Chiropractors will use “low-force” techniques to restore movement and balance to a faulty joint and release the muscles.

Manipulation ‘Red Flags’

Some clear contraindications to adjusting the spine are conditions such as very old age, osteoporosis (bone thinning), or inflammatory arthritis (like rheumatoid arthritis). There are also other indications of a ‘red flag’ – see medical causes of back pain.

Clients are tense or too worried

Sometimes clients simply automatically tense and ‘hold’ the moment the adjustment is given, and can’t relax. It’s often not intentional, but is counterproductive to Chiropractic treatment. Other clients are simply too worried, so full audible adjustment isn’t used.

Some clients are not helped by audible manipulation

A different technique is required for each client – some clients may feel a little worse after having audible manipulation, tend to react or tense up from adjustments, or simply just don’t improve with the treatment, but when more gentler techniques are given they get better! There is no one right approach for everyone, and part of a Chiropractor’s skill is identifying the best technique to use with each client.