Why Do My Joints Make Sounds
Joints are normally lubricated with fluids and contain cartilage allowing for smooth movement.1There are many reasons for joints to make noises. Some are serious and some are completely harmless.
Sometimes soft tissues like tendons and ligaments glide across bones. This is common in the neck.2 My neck, both before and after vertebral fusion surgery, cracks and crunches every time it moves. My physical therapist said that many peoples necks make these innocuous sounds.
True Or False: Cracking Your Knuckles Causes Arthritis
Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis when you get older. Thats probably something youve heard at least once in your life, likely from your mom, concerned that your fidgeting habit will give you arthritis.
A number of studies have been done over the years to find out the long-term impact of cracking your knuckles, but theres no substantial evidence that shows knuckle cracking leads to arthritis.
Its a myth. Cracking your knuckles does not cause arthritis.
As for the crack or pop noise you hear after you crack your knuckles, its not bad, either .
To understand what makes the noise, its helpful to have a basic understanding of joints. A joint is the point where two bones attach, giving you the ability to move a body part. Inside the joint is a small pocket of synovial fluid that surrounds the bones. The fluids help the bones move back and forth without rubbing together.
When you bend or pull your joints, it creates a gap in between your bones. That gap sucks in synovial fluid. The rush of fluid into the gap is what creates the noise you hear when you crack your knuckles.
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Your mum or dad might have fed you this myth because they were told it. Maybe they know its bad to crack your own neck or back but just dont know why. Or maybe they were worried your fingers are going to get too loose and fall off. The popping noise you hear isnt bone cracking or rubbing on bone. Its the creation of small gas bubbles in the joint. And although studies show theres no link between the cracking your joints and the stiff, painful joints that arthritis cause, we shouldnt indulge in our addiction anyway. Cracking your fingers, neck or back 5, 10 or 20 times a day, EVERY DAY could make your supporting ligaments lax. Thats a recipe for trouble.
January 11, 2019 By Crystal Vera
Many people crack their knuckles, toes, back, and especially their fingers. The snapping, popping sound can cause those within earshot to recoil.
Perhaps you have heard that cracking your fingers can lead to arthritis, or that your fingers will become permanently disfigured. Maybe you were told as a child that cracking your fingers would stunt their growth.
So when you hear someone cracking their fingers or knuckles, you may admonish the person for doing irreparable damage to their joints. But is cracking your fingers and other joints really all that bad? The answer may surprise you.
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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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To sum it all up, knuckle cracking hasnt beenshown to be either harmful or beneficial. It doesnt lead to arthritis so ifyou feel like cracking your knuckles and it doesnt cause pain, crackaway.
If you have any more questions about knucklecracking and the health of your joints, reach outto the Baptist Health Orthopedic team to schedule an appointment.
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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.
If Theres Pain See Your Doctor
Although neck, back or knuckle cracking is probably harmless, the exception is if it causes pain. In that case, it could be a problem with the structure of the joint or surrounding areas, such as torn cartilage or damaged ligaments. If you already have arthritis or another issue, such as tendonitis, that could also be the cause of pain with cracking. Talk to your doctor to address the underlying problem, if you experience an uncomfortable feeling with joint cracking.
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The Truth About Cracking Your Knuckles
Cracking joints can be divided into three categories. The first is the accidental cracking or popping joints you hear when you move around normally. The second is cracking the knuckles in your hand. And the third category is when you intentionally crack other parts of your body, like your neck and back.
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Joint Cracking And Grinding: Do Noisy Joints Mean I Have Arthritis
As people get older, they may start to notice that their joints make sounds, which is medically called crepitus. Crepitus occurs as part of normal movement or when you specifically move a joint. While it can occur at any age, it is more common in older patients. Crepitus describes a wide range of joint sounds including:
These sounds can be muffled and sound soft or they can also be loud enough for people to hear. Patients tend to notice these sounds mostly in their knees, though they can also strike in other joints including those in the shoulder, elbow or neck. The sounds are particularly noticeable when you do the following things:
- Bend your knee or elbow
- Go up or down stairs
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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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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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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.
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.
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How It Affects Your Joints
Although cracking your knuckles regularly can be relatively harmless, it can also cause damage if its done incorrectly or too frequently. If you pull or crack your knuckles incorrectly, you can actually cause a ligament injury or even dislocate your fingers. If you notice sudden pain or swelling after cracking your knuckles, you may have caused an injury to your joint ant you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
Cracking your knuckles consistently can also wear away the cartilage in your joints over time, resulting in pain-causing inflammation within your joints.
When To See A Doctor
Cracking your knuckles doesnt cause harm, so it shouldnt be painful, cause swelling, or change the shape of the joint. These are signs that something is wrong, and you should be evaluated by your doctor.
Injuring your finger by pulling very forcefully or moving it in the wrong direction is usually very painful. Your finger may look crooked or start to swell. If this happens, you should see your doctor right away.
If you notice your joints are painful or swollen while cracking your knuckles, its likely due to an underlying condition and should be evaluated by your doctor.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Arthritis
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If youre constantly crack your knuckles, youve probably been warned off doing it by your friends, family, or coworkers. You might have even been told that cracking your knuckles breaks the bones of your dead ancestors. For some reason, many people seem to believe that cracking your knuckles can cause athritis later in life, but does it really?
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Joint Fluid And Gasses
Your finger joints contain a fluid called synovium. Inside this fluid there are also dissolved gasses of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. When a joint is briefly gapped there is a release of joint pressure and audible release of these gasses. This is synonymous with what happens with adjustments of the spine. Despite what you might have been told, the sound is not your joint being put back in to place.
So does cavitation cause arthritis?
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If You Crack Your Knuckles Dont Worry Too Much About Getting Arthritis But The Habit Isnt Harmless
Ignoring generations of parents whove warned that knuckle cracking is bad for you, between 20 and 54 percent of Americans continue to engage in this annoying nervous habit. Many have been reassured by repeated clinical reports over the decades that there is no strong evidence that knuckle cracking causes arthritis. A 2018 Harvard Medical School blog went so far as to pronounce the practice harmless.
Harmless is overstating it, however, argue experts who have studied the fine print of the research. Even as theres no strong link to arthritis specifically osteoarthritis, the degeneration of the cartilage cushioning the ends of bones cracking knuckles, they conclude, may still harm your hands.
Seattle neurosurgeon Rod Oskouian is the most recent researcher to jump into this small but lively tributary of mainstream science, as co-author of a 2018 review of knuckle-cracking studies in the journal Clinical Anatomy.
Oskouian and his three colleagues pored over 26 sometimes-contradictory papers regarding the mechanisms and effects of knuckle cracking, beginning with a 1911 German treatise titled On the Dispute About Joint Pressure. He did so, he said, after becoming fascinated by the universal inability of his students through the years to explain what makes that cracking noise.
But that still doesnt give knuckle-crackers a pass especially not if they do it a lot and for a long time, or have a preexisting problem.
Conflicting Research On Knuckle Cracking And Arthritis
Research studies comparing knuckle crackers’ to non-crackers have had mixed results.1 A couple of studies have reported an association between knuckle cracking and hand arthritis.4,5 Others found no significant connection.6,7
So, is it okay to continue your knuckle cracking? Well, I wouldnt recommend it. Even studies that found no connection between knuckle cracking and arthritis reported other signs of joint changes.1,7,8
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Why Do Knuckles Crack
According to Robert H. Shmerling, MD, faculty editor for Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard Medical School, the cracking and popping sound that occurs with knuckle cracking comes from increased space between the finger joints. Gas bubbles burst within the joint fluid that helps lubricate joints, which makes the sound. Shmerling likens what occurs to blowing up a balloon to the point where it stretches and pops. A study published in 2018 by Nature.com confirmed this.
Why Cant You Crack The Same Knuckle Right Away
Those who crack their knuckles find that if they crack the same knuckle in quick succession, it wont make a second cracking or popping sound. According to Shmerling, this occurs because it takes awhile for the gas bubbles to accumulate in the joint again. Studies have found that the average time for this to occur is 20 minutes.
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What Is Knuckle Arthritis
Knuckle arthritis is less common than arthritis affecting the other smaller joints in the hand or the joint where the thumb joins the wrist . The most common knuckle arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. In this situation, the joint lining produces chemical factors that inflame and destroy the cartilage and soft tissue, such as ligaments and tendons. The result is that the joint surfaces are destroyed and the other fingers drift towards the little finger. The causes may include:
- Age: The older we get, the more likely we are to develop arthritis. Over time, our cartilage that cushions and lubricates your joints wear down, eventually leading to arthritis.
- Genetics: Some people are genetically predisposed to developing thumb arthritis. The estimated onset time of thumb arthritis can usually be determined by family medical history.
- Gender: Women are more disposed to knuckle arthritis.
- Previous injury to the wrist or the area surrounding knuckles and finger
If the pain starts to interfere with daily activities of daily living, then a visit with a hand surgeon could be helpful. The diagnosis is usually confirmed using plain x-rays. Special x-rays are also helpful to look carefully at the metacarpal head, particularly in milder cases.
Question: What Causes Arthritis
Answer: There are different kinds of arthritis with the major categories being two: The inflammatory arthritides such as the rheumatoid arthritis and the degenerative arthritis best known as osteoarthritis or wear and tear arthritis. The causes for either are not well known and research focuses on elucidating the mechanisms leading to these diseases. In general a genetic predisposition is highly likely for both. For the inflammatory arthritis an unknown exposure to environmental stimuli is considered possible. For the wear and tear arthritis instead, aging and excessive mechanical stress may play a role in accelerating the damage in the joints as it happens in the knees of genetically predisposed older obese people.
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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 .