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Is Cracking Your Knuckles Bad For You?

Is Cracking Your Knuckles Bad For You?
Is Cracking Your Knuckles Bad For You?

Does Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis?

Like finger nails scraping down a chalk board someone cracking their knuckles or even worse their neck can really rub people the wrong way. Much of the ill feeling towards someone cracking their knuckles comes from the belief that this action is damaging to the joints. So is Cracking Your Knuckles Bad For You? If you are a fellow knuckle cracker you’ve probably been told numerous times to stop or you’ll get arthritis but does this statement actually carry any weight?

What Actually Causes That Cracking Sound?

So what is actually happening in the joints to cause that cracking or popping sound? Well when you pull, twist or bend your knuckles, the space around your joints increases while the pressure greatly decreases. This decreased pressure means the gases in the synovial fluid, fluid which nourishes, protects and helps the joints slide smoothly turn into “microscopic bubbles,” these bubbles unite to form larger ones. When the fluid moves to fill the extra space around the knuckles, the bubbles pop making that familiar cracking sound. The reason you can’t pop your knuckles continuously is that once your joints have been cracked it takes about least 15-20 minutes for gases to dissolve back into the fluid.
Alternative causes of cracking sounds can also be heard as tendons snap over tissues because of minor adjustments in their gliding paths, this type of cracking can occur in relatively normal situations or may also occur related to injury or arthritic conditions.

So Is Cracking Your Knuckles Bad For You?

Will your face really stay like that if the wind changes? No! Which is exactly the same as the answer to the question is cracking your knuckles bad for you?
It is hypothetically possible that continual cracking of your knuckles could do damage by over stretching the capsule and ligaments surrounding the joints and create a sort of localized hypermobility at the joint and impact alignment and the tension of muscles and tendons around the joint. However as far as I am concerned this would not be the norm and most likely for this to occur it would require significant force being applied each time when cracking your knuckles and for this to be performed on an excessively repetitive basis.
Studies on the topic have be limited, a study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, asked 329 participants, aged 50 to 89 years, to fill out a questionnaire about their right hands. Asked participants to state which joints they crack, the frequency of cracks, whether they have any symptoms of arthritis… Of the 215 surveys returned, 43 of them cracked their knuckles and of this 43, men were more likely than women to crack their knuckles. The results from this study was that is was concluded that knuckle cracking is not associated with hand osteoarthritis.

It Hurts When I Crack My Knuckles

As stated above painless cracking of joints has no significant research to suggest it is harmful. However, common sense would suggest that the intentional and repetitive popping of your joints could be an issue when it produces pain. If popping your knuckles is causing pain then it is possible there is some issues with the structures either in or around the joint and this would best be avoided. It is worth while suggesting here also that avoiding particularly vigorous knuckle cracking is sensible too.

Why Do Your Knuckles Feel Good After Cracking Them?

The cracking of your knuckles can relieve pressure in the joint and may lead to momentary soft tissue loosening, relieving tension and relaxing the soft tissues in the area. Cracking your knuckles also triggers the release of local endorphins, which cause a temporary relief like pain medication can.

Should I Stop Cracking My Knuckles?

Generally there hasn’t been any significant research to indicate that knuckle cracking is either harmful or beneficial and more specifically knuckle cracking has not been shown to cause arthritis. Yes it’s an annoying sound but basically there are worse habits out there than cracking your knuckles. If you have been forced into popping your knuckles in secret, rest at ease you will neither develop arthritis, go blind or go to hell for doing so. Hence feel free to crack away with a clear conscience.

Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products mentioned. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific advice or assistance regarding Is Cracking Your Knuckles Bad For You? should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, general practitioner, sports medicine specialist or physiotherapist.

Hayden Latimer is the founder of and principle physiotherapist at Sydney Physio Clinic. Since graduating from Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand he’s gained wide experience practicing across the globe for over 15 years and is now extremely knowledgeable in helping people reduce discomfort and restore function and mobility.


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