You’re anxious about an upcoming meeting, so you crack your knuckles. Or you do it out of habit when you’re waiting in line or watching TV. Now you’re wondering whether cracking knuckles is actually harmful in any way. Cracking your knuckles probably won’t do any long-term damage. However, it may cause temporary discomfort and swelling. Read on to learn more about what happens when you crack your knuckles and whether it’s actually bad for you.
What Happens When You Crack Your Knuckles?
Here’s what happens when you crack your knuckles: You make a partial fist and then quickly extend your fingers. As the joints pop, you might hear a cracking noise.
The popping sound that occurs when you crack your knuckles is caused by a change in pressure in the joint. This pressure change causes gas bubbles to form and then collapse, which makes the popping sound.
Besides the noise, knuckle cracking generally doesn’t cause any pain or long-term joint damage. In fact, some people find it satisfying or therapeutic.
Contrary to popular belief, cracking your knuckles does not cause arthritis. Research has shown that there is no link between cracking your knuckles and developing arthritis later on (2).
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Why Do People Crack Their Knuckles?
People crack their knuckles for a variety of reasons, including:
- To relieve stress: When people are feeling stressed, they may crack their knuckles as a way to release that tension.
- To relieve boredom: Boredom can sometimes lead people to crack their knuckles as a way to pass the time.
- Out of habit: Some people simply have a habit of cracking their knuckles, even if they’re not aware of it.
- To feel a sense of satisfaction: Cracking your knuckles can sometimes provide a sense of satisfaction or relief.
Why Shouldn’t You Crack Your Knuckles?
There are a few downsides to this habit.
Possible Ligament Injury
Although it’s quite unlikely, pulling too hard on your fingers while cracking them could tear a ligament (1). This would require surgery to fix and is obviously something you want to avoid.
Soreness or Tingling
If you crack your knuckles too often, you may start to feel soreness or tingling in your hands. This is usually not serious and goes away on its own, but it can be annoying.
Annoyance To Others
Let’s be honest, cracking your knuckles can be pretty annoying to others. If you’re in a quiet room or trying to have a conversation with someone, it’s best to avoid cracking your knuckles.
What Can You Do Instead?
If you’re looking to break the habit, there are a few things you can try.
Identify Your Trigger
Like most habits, there’s usually a trigger that sets you off. It could be boredom, anxiety, or even stress. Once you identify your trigger, you can try to avoid it.
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Find A Replacement Habit
To help break the habit, it’s helpful to find a replacement habit. This could be something as simple as clenching and unclenching your fists or playing with a stress ball.
Manage Stress In Other Ways
Stress is often a trigger for cracking your knuckles. If this is the case, try to find other ways to manage stress. This could include exercise, relaxation techniques, or even talking to a therapist.
Develop A Distraction Technique
Another helpful strategy is to develop a distraction technique. This could involve carrying around a fidget toy or keeping your hands busy in some other way.
Should You See A Doctor?
In most cases, there’s no need to see a doctor for cracking your knuckles. However, you may want to see a doctor if:
- You’re experiencing pain in your hands or fingers
- You have arthritis and are concerned about worsening symptoms
- You think you may have injured your hand or fingers
- You’re struggling to break the habit and want to explore other treatment options
If you have any concerns, it’s always best to speak with a doctor. They can provide guidance and support on dealing with this habit.
The Bottom Line
The sound of cracking knuckles isn’t actually the bones popping. It’s actually gas bubbles bursting in the fluid that lubricates your joints. This is perfectly normal and doesn’t cause any harm.
However, it may be annoying or bothersome to some people. If you’re concerned about the potential risks, it’s best to avoid doing it.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Consequences of knuckle cracking: a report of two acute injuries (1999, pubmed.gov)
- Does cracking knuckles cause arthritis? (2020, harvard.edu)