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Is it Harmful to Crack My Knuckles?

Cracking knuckles occasionally is not harmful.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2014
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Most experts agree that it is probably not harmful to crack your knuckles occasionally. There is no proof that it causes arthritis or increases the likelihood that this condition will develop. If done aggressively, cracking the knuckles — or any other joint — may do some damage to the ligaments and tendons that hold the joint together, but this usually heals on its own. Studies have shown that people who crack their knuckles regularly may experience some swelling in the hands and a weaker grip.

Why Do Knuckles Pop?

When you crack your knuckles, the popping sound you hear is usually a gas bubble bursting between your knuckle joints. The knuckle's bones, ligaments and tendons are surrounded by a thick liquid called synovial fluid. Over time, this synovial fluid becomes filled with tiny bubbles of gas. When you push or pull on the joints, the tendons and ligaments become stretched out and the knuckle bones separate slightly.

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The synovial fluid tries to fill in this gap, and the trapped gas bubbles combine to form one large bubble. This bubble pops in order to make room for the sudden rush of synovial fluid into a capsule between the knuckle joints. This gaseous build-up is not harmful to the body if it is not released through knuckle cracking. Cracking the joint releases the pressure that has built up, however, which can make the fingers feel looser and more mobile. It takes about 25 to 30 minutes before the gas builds up again; during that time, you cannot crack the joint again.

In some cases, you may hear the movement of ligaments and tendons in the joint as well. The tendons may be pushed slightly out of position when you crack your knuckles, and you can sometimes hear a snap as they move back into place. Ligaments can also make noise as they tighten and stretch.

When Cracking Does Harm

Although medical studies do not show a link between knuckle cracking and arthritis, there is some evidence that doing it excessively may cause a loss of grip strength or swelling around the joints. When you crack your knuckles, or any other body joint for that matter, you are subjecting the tendons and bones to unnatural pressure; over a long period of time, body tissues do not recover from such manipulations as they once did. This can create the same types of joint pain as professional athletes experience after throwing a football or pitching a baseball for years.

If you are too rough on your knuckles, you can damage the ligaments and tendons in the joint. It's rare to hurt yourself seriously this way, but it can happen. Knuckle cracking should be performed gently, and never forced. If you feel any pain, you should stop immediately.

Pain In or Around Joints

If your knuckles or any other joints hurt when they crack, it could be a sign of a more serious condition. Although knuckle cracking doesn't seem to cause osteoarthritis, if you hear a grinding noise in your joints, it could be a symptom of this degenerative disease. Pain, accompanied by a sudden popping noise, could mean a torn tendon. Very loose or painful joints may have some other type of internal damage. Whenever you experience pain in a joint, you should talk to your healthcare provider to get a complete diagnosis.

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Discuss this Article

anon315649
Post 19

I have been cracking my knuckles since I was in second grade, and I want to stop as soon as I can. I haven't experienced any negative effects although I am 18 years old now.

anon314934
Post 18

I am 16 and I have been cracking my knuckles a bit too much, I suppose. I crack my knuckles about 30 times in one hour, and today all the joints in my fingers swelled up and when I try to make a fist, it is really weak. I need to stop.

anon281258
Post 17

I broke my left middle finger in the middle joint in maybe late April and the doctor told me it would be six to eight weeks until it was fully healed. It's now July and I can't crack that finger. It doesn't hurt whenever I use it, but it hurts when I try to crack it. Is my finger still healing or is there something else wrong with it?

Flywheel1
Post 16

Poster #14: I have been "popping" one of my knuckles by habit since I was 14 or 15. I'm now 67. I've never experienced any negative effects.

anon216351
Post 15

Every time I close my hand it pops. I would like to know why. No matter how many times I close it, it still happens.

anon171983
Post 14

I'm 15 and I do it all the time. I even did it in an exam once because I'm so used to doing it. A girl at my boarding school said (her parents are both doctors) that you can damage them and break your fingers. I have yet to say I have had problems. I am unsure however of what the future will show!

anon139153
Post 13

Thanks anon130222 for posting. I have told my young 15 year old friend. I appreciate your warning.

I sincerely want to encourage you that you can still pursue your dreams of working with people. I think most people would not notice or really worry about your knuckles, though I can hear it's been a real problem for you.

I know my friend never wanted to wear thongs because her toes were an odd size, but now she does. Sometimes things seem bigger in our own minds than they do to others. I hope you can pursue all you want to and be free. Sincerely, Anna

anon137261
Post 12

I've been cracking my knuckles since I was a teenager (I'm 33). I have no problems with my joints at all. No enlarged knuckles, nothing. In fact, my right thumb, which was sprained twice at grade school gym class years ago, sometimes feels locked, and the only way to "unlock" it, is to crack it.

My right foot gets the same problem, which I feel when I'm driving. I have to move my foot around, and eventually it'll crack and then I'm okay.

Oh, and when I bend down, my knees crack. That's been happening since I was a child!

So personal experience, cracking leaves no consequence, except sometimes less pressure and increased mobility.

anon136634
Post 11

I've been cracking my knuckles for about two years (I'm 15) and the only damage it does is that people around me think it's weird.

anon130537
Post 10

I've done it too, for a long time, maybe ten years, and if i don't do it, my hand starts hurting.

anon130222
Post 9

In fact, it does harm your knuckles! I'm the living proof. It doesn't hurt, but the joints I cracked are swollen. The X-ray scans certainly didn't look pretty. Probably damaged ligaments said the doctor.

In case you wondered: my general health is excellent, I have never broken a bone in my life and no one in my family has arthritis, neither do I. So, speaking from experience, please be careful. It does not make your fingers less functional, but it does make them ugly. That is, 3 to 5 millimeters extra on every side of a cracked knuckle.

My currently malformed fingers give me a serious psychological strain. I always close my hands, slightly hiding it. In public I even try to imagine the viewing angle of others and turn my hands accordingly. Some dreams I have, like speaking in front of a public, will never come true just because of the fear it gives me. It's not a fun situation and if the damage could be reversed I would do so right away. Even now I hope for a future medical evolution making it possible to have this reversed.

I've been cracking my fingers from age 10. That's when it all started. I saw an aunt doing it, and I wanted to try the same. I couldn't crack mine vertically, but with a little effort it did work horizontally. I've been very stressed during my youth and somehow this released my stress a bit. I gradually turned it into a habit. I cracked my fingers whenever I could, maybe every 15 to 30 minutes, almost every single day. I believe that from age 12-13 it became visible and towards age 15 it was rather severe.

Over 15 years later, I'm not where I wanted to be. My current job (web developer) allows me to feel more comfortable, but my real dream would be to work with people, not with computers. As you can see, this has quite an impact.

You may cope with it better than me, but I do not wish such a thing for you.

anon121795
Post 8

Cracking knuckles can reduce grip strength by 5 percent which is not a lot. Knuckle cracking otherwise is ok.

anon104879
Post 7

My index finger distal phalange joint was killing me for months. Then I cracked it by pushing the nail side of the finger toward my palm.

The pain is gone. Absolutely gone. I thought I was getting arthritis in the finger, but this is wild. I'm cured.

anon97469
Post 6

no it does not hurt your fingers. there is a liquid in your finger joints and every time you crack them it like fills back up so that is why you can't crack them every second, because it is filling back up.

CrepeTime
Post 5

The cracking of knuckles has long been a symbol that a person is gearing up for a first fight.

rolling68
Post 4

While knuckle cracking or popping causes no long-term damage, I'm certain etiquette guru Emily Post would not consider it an appropriate gesture while in the company of others.

cmsmith10
Post 3

I can remember being younger and my mom scolding me for popping my knuckles. She told me that I would have fat fingers if I popped my knuckles. Well, 30 years later, I am still popping my knuckles and even started popping my toes and I think I turned out okay. They don’t seem any fatter to me. I have often wondered if there was a medical reason as to why I shouldn’t do it.

I’ve checked out several references and from what I gather, there is no permanent damage from popping your knuckles. However, a couple of articles that I read stated that there might be a relationship between knuckle cracking and ligament damage surrounding the knuckle.

I guess it is inconclusive. So, to my fellow knuckle crackers, we may never know.

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