Cracking joints during a massage

When I started my massage practice, I did not feel comfortable cracking my patient fingers, toes or feet. I still can hear my mum telling me to stop cracking my joints or I would get arthritis when I would get older. Since then, when I was having Thai massage or similar body work, or I was cracking my knuckles for relief I was always scared of arthritis.

It’s only when I learned Raynor massage that my fear disappeared and where I started to look at the actual study regarding cracking.


Raynor massage purpose:

During a Raynor massage, we are trained to help releasing tensions in the body and particularly around the joints area. Raynor massage is directly inspired from Thai massage, reflexology, Chinese meridians to bring back in balance the energy flow within the body. The main purpose of this massage is to get rid of all the tensions in the body so all ligaments, tendons, muscles are back to softness, elasticity with a bigger range of movement. When I experienced on myself some energy releases from cracking (toes, fingers, feet, ankle, hips, even neck) I was hooked! I remember particularly a lower back cracking movement done by my teacher and I could feel like an energy flow running like water through out my legs, hips and back. It was AMAZING! At the end of the massage I could bend down and I was free from any low back pain. It last for few days, but eventually the stiffness came back. I would have needed more hours of treatment to bring back the ligaments and tendons to softness. It’s like changing a bad habit, it takes time and self-discipline to change it.

Recently I wanted to see what where the study regarding cracking. And surprisingly, there are not too many studies done but this is what I found.


Cracking, popping joints do NOT cause arthritis:

What I found is a study that demystify the idea that cracking knuckles were likely to cause arthritis. It is a grandma tale!

See sources:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/knuckle-cracking-annoying-and-harmful-or-just-annoying-2018051413797

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1129752/pdf/westjmed00297-0049.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1129752/


It is however important to notice this other study from 1990 saying that habitual knuckle crackers were more likely to have hand swelling and lower grip strength.

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2344210


Now that I know it won’t cause arthritis I wanted to know if there was any study showing the benefit of cracking joints and releasing the body from stiff ligaments and tendons. I failed to find a scientific study, but I found some interesting information correlating with my own ‘experience’.


Cracking, popping sound may come from stiff tendons coming back to place:

In one of the studies I already linked, it is said that the sound your joints make when “cracked” is due to the popping of bubbles in the fluid between the joint.

However, the bubble theory has now been debunked with a study using MRI. They now think it creates a cavity formation rather than the collapse of gas bubbles.


But this same article from ‘Medical News Today’ says also that Joint cracking is often confused with the snapping sound made by stiff tendons or other bands of soft tissue sliding between muscles or over bony outcrops.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/259603.php#causes


What you should know...

Your ligaments connect bone to bone and your tendons connect your muscles to your bones.

What happens is that your lifestyle, your posture, the nature of your work, the level of stress you have during your life will create with age some stiffness in your ligaments and tendons. Instead of being soft, malleable, they will become hard, tight and possibly painful.

Doctors believe that tendons can make a popping noise when they quickly snap over a joint. Ligaments may make popping noises when they tighten while the joint is moving.

When a joint moves, the tendon changes position relative to the joint. After the tendon changes position, there may be a sudden snap as it returns to its original location.

These noises are often heard in the knee and ankle joints when standing up from a seated position or when walking up or down the stairs.


In resume, what I think…

Even if there are no evidence of an ‘energy flow’ released in the body, having experienced it several times on myself, saw it on different clients, and discussed with other Raynor massage therapists, I think cracking, stretching, popping gently may be helpful to bring back the balance in the body. Especially after years of joint stiffness it is quite amazing to see suddenly a new range of mobility on someone.

However, we need to be cautious at all time and adapt our pressure and massage based on the medical history of the client. Some medical pre-condition especially linked to bones (osteoporosis, arthritis…) should be checked and any massage should be authorised by a medical doctor before treatment.


Care and empathy must be used at all time by therapists. I always ask my client if they feel comfortable if I click some of their joints.


What do you think? Leave a comment!


January 2020, by Lilly @ Body Mind Care

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