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Tina Jenkins
Tina Jenkins

Is It Bad That I Crack Myself Up Top

One of the most convincing bits of evidence suggesting that knuckle cracking is harmless comes from a California physician who reported on an experiment he conducted on himself. Over his lifetime, he regularly cracked the knuckles of only one hand. He checked x-rays on himself after decades of this behavior and found no difference in arthritis between his hands. A larger study came to a similar conclusion.

Is It Bad That I Crack Myself Up Top

The origin of most joint noises, such as popping sounds or cracking of the knees when squatting, is uncertain. They may come from the kneecap rubbing on the bones below, or a tendon sliding across an irregular surface. However, in the absence of pain, swelling, or other joint symptoms, these sounds are probably nothing to be concerned about, and there is no reliable way to silence them.

As you age, you can start to experience normal wear and tear on the cartilage which makes it more difficult for your joints to glide smoothly, according to the Cleveland Clinic. When that happens, cracking your back can start to hurt, Dr. Asghar explains.

The thing is, most people keep cracking their backs because it makes them feel better, whether it comes down to a psychological effect or not, Dr. Anand says. There are some core exercises for lower back pain that can help, more on that next.

The exact mechanism explaining what happens in your joints when they crack and pop isn't completely understood. However, the general consensus is that the sounds result from the spine releasing gas that has built up in the joints.

One theory is that these gas bubbles naturally build up within the fluid that lubricates your joints over time. Another is that stretching your back puts the fluid within your joints under pressure, creating vapor-filled pockets within your joints.

"Regardless of why it's there, stretching or trying to crack your back releases this gas, which sometimes results in an audible popping or cracking sound," says Dr. Kenneth Palmer, an orthopedic surgeon at Houston Methodist.

"If you're gently stretching your back and it cracks or pops naturally, it's likely not something that's bad for you or going to cause long-term damage," says Dr. Palmer. "But if you're using forceful, quick movements to try to crack your back or if you feel like you need to crack your back regularly, that's when we start to worry."

Other joint cracking is a mixed bag. Cracking your neck, for instance, isn't a great habit to pick up either, since doing so regularly can cause inflammation around important nerves. There are also the risks of adjusting your neck incorrectly, much like the aforementioned ones from improperly cracking your back.

There's better news for people who like to pop their knuckles. While some well-meaning adult probably told you not to indulge in the habit as a kid, the truth is that cracking your knuckles likely isn't as bad for you as urban legend has made it out to be.

Looking for more ways to strengthen your back? An orthopaedic clinical specialist suggests four exercises to build core muscles that can help protect your spine. Yoga poses can offer some real benefits, too.

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"Humor is a tool like any other," says Robert L. Weiss, a psychologist at the University of Oregon who studies humor in relationships. "People use humor in lots of different ways, including some negative ones. It's not just one monolithic thing." Almost every sweet, supportive way of using it has an evil twin; an aggressive, selfish or manipulative version. And like those teasing comments in the workplace that can just as easily feel like flattery or an attack, the two sides of humor are so intimately intertwined, it almost isn't funny.

Humor also can change the mood or introduce another point of view. "When I was in a state of yearlong depression and feeling like the world was wiping its feet on me daily, my boyfriend used to look at me very seriously and say, 'Nobody likes you.' I found it hysterical," says Lizzie Skurnick, a blogger in Baltimore. By exaggerating her dismal view of the world, her boyfriend gently let her know that he thought it unrealistic, and helped her get a bit of perspective on her depression.

The ambiguity of humor also allows people to express hostility without taking responsibility. "Just kidding," they'll say, after delivering a punch line that feels more like a sucker punch. Often the very same comments can seem either supportive or undermining, affiliative or hostile, depending on the context and the dynamic. "Where you draw the line between healthy and unhealthy uses is very unclear," says Martin.

It may start to sound like the same old he-said, she-said story, but gender differences in humor aren't as predictable as they might seem. In Bippus' study, for example, the men on average perceived more humor in the couples' conversations, but the women produced more humor, contradicting the stereotype that men are the funnier sex.

Nonetheless, a few themes emerge. Many women tend to use humor as a way of enhancing the relationship, says Martin, while men may use it to enhance their own persona. At a family dinner, for example, a woman may retell a story of a comic moment they all shared last Thanksgiving. A man might be more likely to treat the guests as his audience and play for laughs. Along these lines, Mary Crawford, a professor of psychology and women's studies at the University of Connecticut, found that men liked jokes and slapstick better than women, while women tended to find more humor in collaborative storytelling.

"Sometimes the way guys express closeness to other guys is through humor that puts people down. When they try to use the same kind of humor with the women in their lives, it doesn't come across the same way," says Markman.

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In addition to relieving neck pain, cracking your neck may help with headaches, lower back pain, and joint conditions. But if you do it wrong you can strain muscles, pinch nerves, or increase inflammation, says Mahmud Kara, MD, founder of KaraMD.

Once you've talked to your doctor, it's best to focus on small, slow movements, says Granominico. Cracking your neck should feel like a gentle stretch, with no straining, twisting, turning, or jerking, he says. People often try to crack their neck with too much force.

The area between your joints is filled with synovial fluid, a substance that reduces friction and keeps you moving freely. When the space in the joint increases during the stretch, bubbles in this fluid are under less pressure so they expand, and that's what's thought to make the pop, causing the cracking sound.

Stretching your neck and joints can have these benefits even when you don't hear a pop or crack. A small study found that people interpret that cracking noise as a sign of release. So even though a crack or pop isn't necessary for physical relief, it may have a placebo effect.

If you crack your neck incidentally using the gentle method described above, the risk of harming yourself is minimal. But people often try dramatic movements to crack their neck, which can make existing pain worse or cause new types of pain.

"If done incorrectly, neck cracking can lead to pinched nerves, joint or muscle strain, and increased injury or inflammation," says Kara. That might leave you experiencing more frequent neck pain or even migraines, he says.

Cracking your neck is really about stretching your joints. The cracking sound happens when air bubbles in the fluid within your joints pop, due to the extra room from the stretch. That can reduce pressure and leave you feeling better.

However, if you crack your neck too aggressively, you risk additional injury. Because of that, Kara recommends that most people stick with gentle stretching and go see a chiropractor or doctor of osteopathic medicine if they need more intensive relief.

There has been some research to suggest knuckle cracking may lead to hand swelling and reduced grip strength, but this evidence is not strong, and other studies have not replicated these results. Likely, there will be no long-term damage from such cracking.

Although neck, back or knuckle cracking is probably harmless, the exception is if it causes pain. In that case, it could be a problem with the structure of the joint or surrounding areas, such as torn cartilage or damaged ligaments. If you already have arthritis or another issue, such as tendonitis, that could also be the cause of pain with cracking. Talk to your doctor to address the underlying problem, if you experience an uncomfortable feeling with joint cracking.

After sitting or standing for long periods, your back may be sore. Cracking your back can alleviate pain caused by soreness, leaving you feeling refreshed. The process of cracking your back is simple, but be careful. You should not crack your back too often, as this can worsen back pain. Also, keep in mind that cracking your back may not solve the problem if you have persistent back and shoulder pain. In that case, you should see a doctor to treat your pain.


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