If you’ve ever once felt relief and looseness after intentionally crunching your back or finger bones, you’ll probably start crunching them all the time.

Perhaps this sound will irritate your surroundings and at least someone will certainly tell you that crunching is bad for you. But is it really so? Today, let’s look into the causes and consequences of crunching together with the doctors of the network of medical centers.

Why do people crunch their joints?

Scientists have also asked themselves this question. Moreover, they conducted a study that was published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. According to the study, about 54% of respondents deliberately crunch their finger bones. They do so for several reasons:

  • The sound. Some people like to hear the sound that occurs when they crunch their finger bones;
  • Sensation. Some respondents believe that the crunch increases the free space in the joints and contributes to their greater mobility, but it is not scientifically substantiated;
  • nervousness. Intentional limb crunching, just like twisting your hair or cupping your hands, can be a way to “occupy your hands” when you’re nervous;
  • stress. Some people under stress feel the need to vent it out, and crunching is one of the easiest ways to do this and distract yourself;
  • habit. If you start crunching your joints for any reason and keep doing it unconsciously, you may form a habit. In that case, you are likely to crunch not only your fingers, but other parts of your body more than 5 times a day without even noticing it.

Why do we hear crunching?

Exactly how the crunch occurs is still unknown. For a long time, doctors attributed the cracking or popping sounds to nitrogen bubbles, which either formed or collapsed in the joint fluid. Some, however, believed they were caused by the movement of the ligaments around the joint.

In 2015, researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical School conducted a study in which finger crunches were monitored on MRI scans. It turned out that a cavity forms in the joint, which collapses due to abrupt uncharacteristic movement, causing the crackling. It takes at least 20 minutes for the cavity to re-form. This explains the fact that after the first crackling, the fingers do not make such sounds anymore for a certain period of time.

What are the causes of the crunch in the back and joints?

If everything is more or less clear with the mechanics of the sound itself, what causes the phenomenon of the crunch itself? One of the most common causes is inflammation of the joints.

“There is a myth that the crunching of joints can cause inflammation. Let me tell you right away that this is not true: this process itself is quite safe. However, if it is accompanied by pain, periodic swelling and stiffness of movements, it may indicate the development of arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis. In this case, the sound occurs due to friction of inflamed tissues, so you should see a doctor for timely treatment.

Crunching in the back can be caused by protrusions of the intervertebral discs. This can be said to be the initial stage of a herniated disc, caused by age changes, prolonged sitting in an unchanged position, excessive strain on the spine, or even genetics.

“Crunching is far from being the primary symptom of intervertebral disc protrusion. First of all, this pathology is characterized by significant stiffness and numbness in the back, pain at the end of the day or during prolonged sitting. If the protrusion develops in the cervical spine and simultaneously squeezes the nerve root, weakness and tingling in the hands may be observed. Usually, after the back rattling, relief and relaxation are felt, but this condition does not last long. In order to prevent the formation of a hernia, you should see a neurologist in a timely manner.

There is an opinion that the crunch in the spine is related to its curvature. And many people are convinced that during the back crunching, the vertebrae supposedly “fall into place”. However, traumatologists unanimously deny this claim, calling it unfounded.

“Any type of spinal curvature, whether it is kyphosis, lordosis or scoliosis, can be noticed at the initial stage only on X-ray. And only with the progression of the pathology changes become visible to the naked eye. It should be understood that musculoskeletal system disease is a serious problem, which can lead to changes in the position of organs, their compression and malfunction. Of course, no crunch can put the vertebrae back in place even with the slightest deviation from the normal position. And although such a sound can appear with spinal abnormalities, it is not directly related to them.

Diagnosis and treatment of crunch in the back and joints

We have already found out that the crunch itself is not indicative of the development of a particular disease and does not require treatment. However, experts agree that you should consult a doctor if the crunch is accompanied by pain, swelling and stiffness of movements.

If you do not know which specialist will help get rid of the problem, you can make an appointment with a general practitioner. He will prescribe additional examinations, such as an ultrasound of the joints and, if necessary, refer you to a doctor of subspecialty.

So is it safe to crunch?

Yes, it is safe to crunch your back and joints! But be careful, because you can pinch a nerve or stretch a muscle during a sharp snap. Also, the habit of crunching can irritate your surroundings:

  1. Move more. If you sit for a long time, you can probably crunch your back to get rid of the stiffness. A simple solution is to take breaks and periodically stretch your back and limbs.
  2. Gentle stretching. This will help move the synovial fluid, lubricating the joints. Consult with your doctor and he or she will recommend the best set of stretching exercises for all your joints.
  3. Stress Relief. If crunching your fingers helps you calm down, try replacing it with other calming practices like meditation or deep breathing.
  4. Mindfulness. If the crunching is just a habit, only conscious control of your actions will help you get rid of it. Try to notice when you start to crunch your body, and stop in time.

Have you ever had the desire to crunch your joints?