Cartilage in the Body

That popping sound… 

     From elementary school to high school and beyond, I’ve noticed people cracking or popping their fingers. Mostly fingers, some people are able to pop their necks, wrists, elbows, shoulders, even knees. I myself can crack my back, but only in a chair. At first the sound always seemed painful to me. It sounded like whatever it was, was being dislocated. I was always squeamish around those who could pop their joints easily and those who did it often, until high school when I first cracked my back stretching in my chair. I thought it would hurt, I really did! What I felt instead was relief, like when you’ve spent too long outside in the sun, and you finally get to walk into an air-conditioned room. I started making a habit out of it when my back would get sore or tense, and my grandma noticed this one day and told me to stop. I was confused because it actually felt good, and I asked her why. My grandma is a very wise woman from experience, and she said it’s because the cartilage in your joints is like a jelly, with air pockets built into them. The jelly sits between your joints to prevent the bones from grinding against each other. Like the body’s natural oil pack to keep your joints squeaking and moving. When you pop, say your wrist, you take out those air pockets, and leave a slightly denser, slightly harder jelly. The bones don’t have a soft cushion anymore and the jelly, now hardened, will grind itself down over time and bring those bones closer together. Essentially, she said, by popping your joints, you speed up the wear and tear of your cartilage, and that’s absolutely not good for your body. So out of fear I stopped cold turkey, but now as an adult, I’ve decided to do some research. This is what I’ve found. 

     There are two types of cartilage in your knee to start. There’s Articular cartilage and Meniscus cartilage. The Articular cartilage is like the jelly I mentioned previously. It sits closest to each connecting bone and helps move the joints in a hinge motion with a lubricated exterior. The Meniscus cartilage is located between the Articular, and like Captain America’s shield, helps take in and dispense the force of impacts to avoid damage, in this case to the joint. For example, say you go out running. The cartilage in your knee works together to help your bones extend and retract, and while doing so, it draws in the impact of your foot hitting the ground, and then radiates that impact energy out of the joint to help propel you forward. 

     I mentioned the knee first because the Articular and Meniscus cartilages are found in most hinge joints on your body. Fingers, toes, and elbows, all work the same as how I described above. However, when gone, cartilage doesn’t heal. At least not by itself. Cartilage can be repaired, but you’ll likely need medical assistance to do so. This is due in part to it lacking blood vessels, and thus having no blood flow, making it avascular. 

     When the cartilage is weakened or damaged, your body is more prone to injuries and ailments. Stress fractures, for instance, are tiny fractures in a bone, which are more likely to appear when there is less cartilage present. Muscle and tissue are also determinants, because if your body is physically capable and used to lifting, say fifty pounds, your joints won’t be as stressed versus someone deadlifting fifty pounds vigorously for the first time. The person who’s deadlifting is more likely to damage their bones because the impact that’s being distributed out of the joints cannot be supported by the muscle in the ligaments. This pressure then radiates back like a wave in a pool, and fills itself into the weakest parts of the area which are less likely to withstand the shock. This is what sometimes causes workout injuries. 

     Cartilage loss and natural wear are different from person to person, and what works for some might not work for others. Genetics also decide how long someone keeps cartilage or how fast someone might wear theirs out. However, there’s no definitive yes or no as to whether or not popping your joints actually damages them. Doing so does toughen your cartilage, and I’d imagine that the toughened cartilage, with no vessels or blood flow in it, would degrade faster like playdough being left out to dry. This is my opinion though, and for those who do crack their body, there is no evidence at present to definitively say that it harms your body.  

     **I would like to point out something before you go. In the Mayo Clinic Minute and newsnetwork, I quote “Dr. Kakar explains that tribonucleation is the process of creating bubbles within the synovial fluid in our finger joints. The sound we call cracking is actually those bubbles bursting. “You’re breaking those bubbles up – just like bubble wrap,” Dr. Kakar explains. “You’re pressing them, and then the bubbles are bursting. (…)Otherwise, if it’s causing no pain to them, really, I don’t think they’re doing any harm. I occasionally do it myself, and I’m a hand surgeon.” Let’s do some thinking on that for a second. Let’s say you wrap a piece of fine China in bubble wrap. If it drops, those bubbles help absorb the impact of the fall, and the fine China is less likely to be damaged, right? So now let’s say you pop all those bubbles in the bubble wrap, wrap the fine China in the popped plastic, and then drop it. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the dropped China is considerably more likely to break, since there’s virtually no barrier to absorb any impact from the fall. Now, I’ll draw the parallel I see. Your cartilage are the bubbles and the wrap, and your bones are the fine China. Insert that now into the example above, and I’ll allow you to make a personal decision based on the conclusion you come to. Again, I’m not a doctor or a surgeon, and I’ve never attended any medical classes, it’s just my observation.

     Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog! If you’d like to know where I got some of my information, I’ve included the links below! 

Information obtained and used in this blog were from the following sites: 

https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/health-management/knees-hurt-options-for-cartilage-related-knee-pain#:~:text=There%20are%20two%20kinds%20of%20cartilage%20in%20the,shock%20absorbers%20%28like%20the%20shocks%20in%20your%20car%29.

https://www.healthline.com/health/cartilage

https://mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stress-fractures/symptoms-causes/syc-20354057

https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-minute-a-hand-surgeons-advice-about-knuckle-cracking/

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