Is Cracking Your Knuckles Bad for You?

knuckles coveredCracking joints like knuckles or fingers creates an audible popping sound. Both the noise and the action of cracking knuckles have taken on special meaning culturally. It is sometimes used to indicate that a difficult, laborious or dangerous task is about to be performed. There are also some people who just tend to crack joints as a compulsion when they are bored. The common sight of knuckle cracking has resulted in a wealth of myths, rumors and misinformation about what is actually happening and the long-term health effects of the action. For a professional advise, visit

The source of the debate over knuckle cracking is a thick substance called synovial fluid. This fluid acts like a lubricant between the joints in the body. The fluid is held between the bones and cartilage of the joints by a lining called the joint capsule. The synovial fluid acts like many fluids in the body and breaks down compounds. Part of this involves removing carbon dioxide from the nearby cartilage. The carbon dioxide is normally broken down and dissolved into the fluid. Knuckle cracking changes the shape of the synovial capsule and lowers the amount of pressure inside. This causes the dissolved gases to reform into salient bubbles in the fluid. As the pressure continues to drop the bubbles become unable to retain their shape and burst. This is the sound that is described as cracking.

One of the most frequently heard claims is that knuckle cracking will cause arthritis in the fingers. Osteoarthritis is caused by inflammation of the tissue in the hands, joints and fingers. Other forms of arthritis are caused by the degeneration of different parts of the joints over a long period of time. Knuckle cracking does not contribute in any way to the development of arthritis. No link has ever been shown and there is no contrary data indicating any differently. Additionally, people who have developed arthritis who crack their knuckles do not make the condition worse by doing so.

There are limited reports that some people who regularly crack their knuckles experienced swollen or dislocated ligaments and tendons in the fingers. This type of finger injury is easily treatable, however, and is not a chronic condition like arthritis. It is still unclear if knuckle cracking is the source these fairly minor problems because other contributing factors could have been the cause such as personal habits and the type of work that is done each day.

There are some equally limited reports from a few hand doctors that knuckle cracking actually has some beneficial effects in the moments afterwards. Increased flexibility, minor nerve stimulation and relaxed muscles in the fingers were felt by some patients for a short time. Whether this is the result of the actual popping of the fluid in the synovial capsule or just the result of stretching the fingers and joints remains to be seen.

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