I read with interest your article on cracking joints and was wondering if the same philosophy and warning applies to someone who is hypermobile and feels a frequent need to crack the finger joints. I am also a physiotherapist and I enjoy reading all your articles and am appreciative of your kindness to share your professional expertise in the interests of safety and better health of your followers. My daughter has, in the past been a classical ballet student however stopped when the demands of study became too great. Whilst dancing I noticed clicking and cracking in her toes and ankles when walking/dancing and at the time the reading I had done explained it as a release of nitrogen in the joint and was harmless so I did not concern myself with it being a problem. Now she is a law student and spends many hours a day typing on the keyboard it is her fingers that crack constantly. She was assessed by a Sports Doctor/ Physician who specialises in treating dancers several years ago and was diagnosed as being hypermobile. How can she strengthen and stabilise her fingers to prevent this issue or do you have any other suggestions that may help?
Regards, Concerned mother.
Thanks so much for your support in my efforts to get some good information out into the world, to help support all people look after their bodies better! I have put together a few points that hopefully will answer your questions.
1. Yes, hypermobile individuals tend to feel the need to crack their joints more often. As a fellow hypermobile individual I know this far too well! This is usually due to increased load on the muscles that stabilise the joints, as the ligaments are more lax. Over time this builds up a feeling of pressure that we feel needs to be released by cracking.
2. However, frequent cracking should be avoided as it may further stretch the ligaments over time. In hypermobile individuals this is even more imperative than in our stiffer friends. This recent video of cracking joints (below) under MRI shows how much the ligaments get stressed in order to be able to do this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZNENkkf5Uw
3. Finger cracking is not as detrimental long term as joints such as the hips or back but if she is doing excessive amounts of typing and had many discomfort this maybe something that needs to be looked at. I would suggest slow isometric stability exercises for each of the fingers - each held in slight flexion against the desk, but to also look at her shoulder posture and desk set up to make sure that there are no other reasons for excessive loading through the fingers.
4. Many dancers (and ex-dancers) feel the need to crack their hips and back at regular intervals. In both my personal and professional experience this tends to increase over time, but also has diminishing returns in the amount of relief given by cracking the joint. For more detail about this please watch the below video.
5. Use the desire to crack as a warning sign for instability. The more frequently the need to crack is felt, the more unstable the joint. This indicates that more specific deep stabilising exercises, aimed at dynamically stabilising the joint should be done more frequently, and then the need to crack will reduce over time.