Possible Changes In The Hand
Research suggests people who often crack their knuckles may have:
- More swelling in their hands7
- A weaker grip7
- A slightly larger range of motion in their hands8,9while this seems like a good thing, hypermobility can put a joint at risk of osteoarthritis and other injuries
- Signs of cartilage changes in their knuckle joints that indicate possible scarring and a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis1
Like the research regarding knuckle cracking and arthritis, the research regarding these potential effects also sometimes conflicts. For example, the same study1 that reported knuckle crackers had cartilage changes did not find they had weaker grip strength.
Studies examining knuckle cracking tend to be small, ranging from 35 to 300 people. Also, most compare knuckle crackers and non-crackers at a single point in time. Larger, longer-term studies that measure changes in hands over time are necessary to draw more clear conclusions.
Tendons Snapping Over Joints
Tendons keep muscles attached to bones, while ligaments connect bones to other bones. Ligaments can make popping noises when they tighten while the joint is moving. Tendons can make a popping noise when they move out of place and snap back into position as the joint moves.
People often hear these noises in their knee and ankle joints when they stand up from sitting or while walking up or down the stairs.
What Causes The Pop
The reason the joint makes a popping or cracking sound when pulled is still not completely understood. For a long time, many people attributed the noise to nitrogen bubbles either forming or collapsing in the joint fluid. Others thought it came from movement of the ligaments around the knuckle.
In a 2015 study , researchers watched knuckles while they were cracked using an MRI. They found that a cavity formed due to the negative pressure created when the joint was pulled apart quickly. They determined that the sound was made by formation of the cavity. However, this couldnt explain the loudness of the sound.
A 2018 study suggested that the sound was actually caused by the partial collapse of the cavity. A review of studies noted that it takes 20 minutes for the cavity to fully collapse so a new cavity could be formed. This may be why after youve cracked your knuckles, youre not able to do it again right away.
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Is Knuckle Cracking Harmful In Other Ways
While knuckle cracking isnt associated with arthritis, it has been connected to other problems with the hands. These include occasional dislocations or tendon injuries when the knuckle cracking is overly forceful. Cracking your knuckles has also been associated with decreased grip strength with aging. This can mean having more difficulty opening jars and even turning knobs.
How To Stop Cracking Your Knuckles
Given the fact that cracking your knuckles could cause decreased hand strength and lead to injury, you might want to consider stopping the popping habit. In order to do so, youll want to take a close look at why you crack your knuckles and address any associated issues.
For instance, if youre cracking your knuckles because youre anxious, address the reasons for your anxiety. Consider alternate activities to reduce tension and stress, such as meditation, deep breathing or exercise, like yoga. An alternative to cracking your knuckles could be to squeeze a stress ball.
If you decide to continue cracking your knuckles, its good to know that doing so probably wont harm you. Unless you count the noise complaints when you crack them!
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Cracking Sounds You Don’t Intend
People with arthritis of the hands or other conditions such as bursitis and tendinitis may feel snapping of the tendons and hear cracking sounds as the tendons can’t glide easily over the swollen tissues. These sounds and sensations may be why some think painless knuckle cracking might lead to arthritis. But they are not actually associated.
What The Research Says About Knuckle Cracking
Several studies have been done to determine if knuckle cracking is associated with arthritis. To date, no link has been found.
In one report, researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences examined a group of 215 people. Twenty percent of them said they cracked their knuckles regularly.
Results showed 18.1 percent of those participants who cracked their knuckles and 21.5 percent of those who didnt had arthritis in their hands. The investigators concluded that the chance of having arthritis was about the same in both groups.
In 1998, Dr. Donald Unger performed an informal study that was published as a letter to the editor in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism. As part of his experiment, the doctor cracked the knuckles on his left hand at least twice a day for 50 years, while leaving the knuckles on his right hand alone to serve as a control.
Dr. Unger estimated that the knuckles on his left hand were cracked at least 36,500 times. In his letter, he concluded that after 50 years, neither of his hands showed symptoms of arthritis, and there were no differences between the two hands.
The results of a study published in 2017 agreed with Dr. Ungers conclusions. Researchers found knuckle crackers had the same level of physical function as those who didnt crack their knuckles.
While research overwhelming suggests that knuckle cracking doesnt lead to arthritis, the following can increase your risk of developing the condition:
- a previous joint injury
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Is It Okay To Crack My Joints
When cracking your fingers, toes, shoulders, elbows, back, or neck, the sense of relief is achieved when that tension is released. The joint feels relaxed again, which helps to alleviate stress in the body.
There is actually no evidence that cracking your fingers is harmful or can cause damage. On the contrary, some researchers have discovered a lower incidence of arthritis in people who do crack their fingers.
This continues to be studied to determine whether this is a coincidence, or whether cracking your fingers actually helps prevent arthritis from developing. That said, if you dont feel any natural tension in your hands or joints, dont try to crack them, because you may actually cause damage to your tendons or ligaments.
Hand Specialists In The Chesapeake Region
Cracking your fingers may bring relief, but if you are suffering from chronic pain in your fingers, wrists, elbow, or shoulder, you should consider seeing a specialist. A hand surgeon is the best person to see when it comes to diagnosing and treating conditions affecting those areas.
Our board-certified hand surgeons at Greater Chesapeake Hand to Shoulder have locations across Maryland, we are ready to help you. Call our main office number today at 296-6232 to schedule a consultation with our physicians, or request an appointment online at one of our convenient locations. We look forward to serving you and helping you live well.
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Other Habits Associated With Knuckle Cracking
One research study of 300 people reported that people who cracked their knuckles were more likely to have manual labor jobs and smoke.7
Manual labor can be a risk factor for osteoarthritis. If you have a manual labor job, finding ways to reduce daily stress on your joints may be more important than quitting knuckle cracking to lower your risk of arthritis.
Likewise, quitting smoking or other nicotine use can reduce your risk of serious medical problems, including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease .
But Wait There’s More Here’s What You Shouldn’t Crack
Dr. Fackler advises avoiding popping the neck, as it can cause inflammation around the nerves and lead to more serious injuries long-term. “I encourage people not to habitually pop their necks, especially kids.”
So, as it turns out, you can crack your knuckles, limitlessly, without the consequences of arthritis. Just don’t be too caught off guard if your rings fit a little tighter after a knuckle-cracking session. Cracking knuckles can cause temporary swelling or a subtle increase in the size of your hands, but is ultimately harmless. “There are no long-term studies that show knuckle-cracking causes any damage,” Dr. Fackler says. Until then, “When it comes to your fingers, don’t even worry about it.”
Snap, crackle and pop away.
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Will I Get Arthritis From Cracking My Knuckles
Now, heres the good news
There is no scientific evidence that cracking your knuckles will have any adverse effect on youwhich basically means that cracking your knuckles isnt proven to lead to joint conditions like arthritis.
In fact, one study on knuckle cracking actually concludes that that habit is quite harmless after conducting experiments on himself. Over his entire lifetime, he regularly cracked knuckles on one hand and tracked its condition using x-rays over the span of decades. The study showed that there are no differences between his left or right hand. This was supported by a larger study who concluded the same thing.
That said, compulsive knuckle crackers arent completely off the hook.
Think of what it takes to get that satisfying crack. Bending your fingers forward and back, pulling it forcefully to get a pop, twisting and turning joints at odd anglesall these can actually take its toll on the joint and cause the cartilage to wear away over time when its done constantly.
Additionally, one study conducted back in the 90s found that people who regularly cracked their knuckles actually had weaker grip strengthon top of the possibility, albeit rare, of injuring yourself in your attempt to get a good pop.
Even if cracking knuckles is unlikely to cause arthritis, theres still good reason to stop the habit.
Question: Are There Any Side Effects To Cracking Knuckles
There is no evidence that cracking knuckles causes any damage such as arthritis in the joints. However, a couple of reports in the medical literature are available associating knuckle cracking with injury of the ligaments surrounding the joint or dislocation of the tendons which improved with conservative treatment. A study found that after many years of cracking habitual knuckle crackers may have reduced grip strength compared with people not cracking their knuckles.
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Question: What Causes The Sound
Answer: Joints are covered by a capsule . Within the space of this capsule the synovial fluid is contained which acts as a lubricant and also contains nutrients for the adjacent bone surfaces. A variety of gases are continuously dissolved in this fluid. When one cracks a knuckle, the stretching of the capsule lowers the pressure inside the joint and creates a vacuum which is filled by the gas previously dissolved in the synovial fluid. This creates a bubble which then bursts producing the characteristic popping or cracking sound. It takes a while until these gases are re-dissolved in the synovial fluid which explains why knuckles cannot be re-cracked immediately.
What Is Cracking Your Knuckles
The first thing to know is that there is no actual cracking going on. Joints are covered by the synovial capsule. Inside the capsule is synovial fluid which helps lubricate the joint. Gases are continuously dissolved in the synovial fluid. When you crack your knuckle, you stretch the capsule which lowers the pressure and creates a vacuum. A bubble of gas is formed and due to the pressure from when you bent your finger, it bursts, creating the popping or cracking sound you hear.
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Why Do People Crack Their Knuckles
The reasons vary for cracking knuckles. Some people say that it releases tension and makes their hands feel more relaxed. Other knuckle crackers find that it becomes a nervous habit that helps them deal with anxiety and stress. Some people report enjoying the sound of cracking knuckles, although those around them who arent knuckle crackers will often complain about the almost shiver-inducing noise!
Types Of Finger Arthritis
There are three types of arthritis that commonly affect the fingers:
- Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis, also called wear-and-tear arthritis, is the most common type of finger arthritis. Osteoarthritis causes normal cartilage to wear away. This exposes bare bone at the joints. The most frequently affected joints in the hand are the knuckles of the mid-finger and fingertip and the joint at the base of the thumb.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis causes a different type of joint destruction. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that affects the whole body. It causes the immune system to attack the soft tissues surrounding the joints. The most commonly affected joints in the hand are the knuckles at the base of the fingers .
- Gout: Gout is a condition that occurs when crystals develop within the joints. These crystals can form in one or more joints when there is too much of a substance called uric acid in the body. While the big toe is the most commonly affected part of the body, gout can also develop in finger joints.
Rarely, other types of arthritis can also cause problems in the fingers.
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What Does Happen When You Crack Your Knuckles
Dr. Fackler explains that the pressure applied to knuckles “causes vapor pockets” within the fluid inside the joints. This then “creates a vacuum that sucks the joint apart rapidly,” causing a popping sound in the knuckles.
So why do so many people find relief in cracking their knuckles? Cracking your knuckles “feels as if it relieves tension in the joints,” Dr. Fackler says. “When that phenomenon happens, it causes a distraction of the joint and separates the joint for a brief second. If traction is applied to the joint, it feels as if it loosens up and is more mobile.”
Does Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis
Anxiety, restlessness or just pure pleasure there are lots of reasons why many find comfort in cracking their knuckles. But, does it cause arthritis? The short answer is no.
According to Houston Methodist Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Dr. John Fackler, “There are no known detrimental effects to cracking your knuckles.” At worst, knuckle-cracking may cause temporary swelling or a feeling of weakness in the hands but arthritis, not quite.
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Are There Any Negative Side Effects
People crack their knuckles because it tends to make the joints feel looser for a little while. As of now, there is no solid evidence that cracking your knuckles will lead to arthritis later on in life. However, it may not be totally harmless either. There are some that think habitually cracking your knuckles can lead to swollen joints and a loss of grip strength. Additionally, if cracking is accompanied by any pain, there may be an underlying issue that should be checked out.
Cracking your knuckles does not cause arthritis. However, if you are experiencing pain associated with the joints in your hands, it may be a good idea to meet with our hand specialist, to ensure there isnt a core issue.
A member of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Dr. Lampley specializes in minimally invasive procedures including endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery and arthroscopy of the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder.
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Study Conclusions On Whether Knuckle Cracking Causes Arthritis
There have been a few studies over the years that considered whether or not cracking knuckles caused arthritis. One study found that there was no increase of hand arthritis among knuckle crackers, however, knuckle cracking was related to hand swelling and lower grip strength.
Another study indicated that while knuckle cracking was not associated with arthritis, it was associated with damage to ligaments that surround the joint and dislocation of tendons. While cracking your knuckles is not linked to causing arthritis, there may be a connection to soft tissue injuries.
A study from 2011 looked at 215 people who had a hand X-ray within the past five years. It’s interesting that 20% of them were habitual knuckle-crackers. The good news for those folks is that they were at no greater risk for hand osteoarthritis and it didn’t matter how long they had been knuckle-crackers or how often they did it each day.
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People Crack Their Knuckles To Relieve Stress Experts Say
So why do we crack our knuckles in the first place? There’s a physical sensation that comes from cracking knuckles that many people find relaxing. “Aside from some degree of compulsion , cracking the knuckles actually releases several pounds of pressure from the joints,” New York City-based physical therapist Scott Weiss, DPT, told The/Thirty. Sure, this can feel really good, but above all else, there’s an emotional release to knuckle-cracking, Klapper said. “Feeling good after cracking your knuckles is a psychological experience,” he explained.
As good as a nice knuckle crack may feel, the glare of irritated friends and family members may not feel so great. If you want to break the finger cracking habit, you can approach this goal the same way you’d take on any behavior you wanted to unlearn: use either positive or negative behavioral therapy techniques to reward or punish yourself. Some examples of positive behavioral therapy would be treating yourself to something you like chocolate, anyone? every time you resist the urge to crack, while negative therapy could be snapping your wrist with a rubber band when you give in to temptation . If you’re cracking your knuckles to relieve stress, getting to the bottom of what’s making you anxious might also reduce your need to snap, crackle, and pop in the first place.