What’s the first thing a cat or dog does when it wakes up from a nap? It stretches and arches its back, elongating its spine and joints — waking those joints from a long time of stickiness with (sometimes) an audible snap, crackle, and pop.
And humans do it, too, though we rarely understand why. For us to answer why our joints crack when we wake up, we first must understand why our joints crack while we are awake!
The Science of Popping Your Joints
Due to a life of accumulated trauma (large and small), repetitive postural damage, chemical inflammation from various foods and substances, and emotional stress, our bodies develop tight muscles, which can form scar tissue and further irritate nerves.
Nerves control muscles, and muscles control our bone positions, movement, and joint stability. So, when our muscles get tight, our joints don’t move as well. As a result, when we stretch, the tension from the scar tissue and tight muscles can create a gaping of the joint, causing a change in pressure and a release of a gas bubble, which creates a popping noise.
The tightness gets stronger throughout the day as we sit at a computer, look down and play with our phones, drive to and from work, sit on the couch to watch TV, and then finally go and lay in our fluffy, soft beds for eight hours while our muscles atrophy and lock up. Finally, when we wake up and stretch (or simply get out of bed), it’s the sound of our joints sobbing with relief and expressing thanks for finally moving!
The Real Question
But asking, ‘Why do body parts crack or pop?’ isn’t the important question. The important question is: ‘What behavior am I doing that is creating tightness in my joints, which is causing my joints to pop?’ Humans have an innate sense to move — meaning you should do more than sit at a desk or migrate to the couch.
Listen to your body. It craves movement, not just exercise. Creaking joints don’t get better with rest. They get better with...
- Foam Rolling
What do these all have in common? Movement! The way to keep your joints from getting tight is to keep your body moving as much as possible. And this goes for all you hardcore athletes, too! 60-minutes of exercise does not make up for 23 hours of sedentary behavior!