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Knuckle Cracking

Knuckle Cracking – Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Adopt This Habit

For decades, knuckle cracking has caused constant trouble for people parenting their children – As much as the parents discourage this habit, children somehow continue to do it; and so do most adults. But, is knuckle cracking bad? Does it have any long-term effects? Or more importantly, does knuckle cracking cause arthritis?

People choose to crack their knuckles, neck, and back; to satisfy the urge to make their joints feel loose and relaxed. Regardless, of whether you do it for a sense of relief, as a way to tackle nervousness, or for the sound of it – doing it too often leads to health problems.

The Origin of Popping Sound

What is knuckle cracking?

The “cracking” sound of cracking is produced by increasing the space between hands and bone joints. This cracking causes the nitrogen air pack in the joint fluid to collapse or burst which creates a popping sound and lubricates fluid between the joints is called synovial fluid. Sometimes if you try to crack it but it won’t because the nitrogen air pack is not formed yet. Although Knuckle cracking is totally harmless but sometimes it can cause serious problems like joint dislocation, permanent pain in joints, swollen, tendons pain and Osteomyelitis

According to Dr. Medellin’s Statement: “There is no real harm in the practice. “There is no evidence to support the old wives’ tale that says cracking knuckles causes arthritis of the hands,” he says. That myth probably originated with people who wanted to convince knuckle crackers to quit.”

Another researcher Dr. Klapper said: “Knuckle cracking itself does no harm to your fingers, neck, ankles, or other joints that pop and crack throughout the day—whether from normal day-to-day motions or compulsive habits like pressing our knuckles or twisting your neck until you hear that familiar crack.”

For the longest time, people have been trying to understand why our joints make this popping/cracking sound. Some explained it as nitrogen bubbles collapsing or being formed in our joint fluid; while others assumed that the ligaments around the knuckles were the reason.

A team of researchers carried out an experiment in 2015, observing knuckles being cracked via MRI. Their experiment explained how a cavity was formed by the negative pressure, on pulling the joint. While the formation of that cavity became the reason behind the sound – the loudness of the knuckle-cracking sound still couldn’t be explained.

3 years later in 2018, another study suggested that the sound was made due to the partial collapse of the same cavity, and that cavity took 20 minutes for it to collapse completely, explaining why joints couldn’t be cracked again right after.

Is Knuckle Cracking Harmless?

Several clinical reports over the last years have been pushing the narrative that there is no evidence that directly connects knuckle-cracking with arthritis. So much so that a blog published by Harvard Medical School in 2018, went as far as to deem the habit “harmless.”

While knuckle cracking might not lead to arthritis, calling the habit “harmless” is still an exaggeration, considering that cracking your joints causes deterioration in your joints and their functioning.

Side Effect of Knuckle Cracking

More and more people are now aware of the fact that knuckle cracking does not develop arthritis – however, if done inappropriately or with too much force, it does have the capability to injure your joints.

Injuring your joints while cracking isn’t an easy job, but if the finger is pulled hard enough, there are chances of dislocating your finger or even injuring the ligament.

This habit should not be painful at all, nor should it cause swelling, or de-shape the joint in any way – so if you are experiencing any of the mentioned problems, it is probably because of some underlying condition that needs to be checked.

How to Avoid Knuckle-Cracking?

We’ve established so far that there are no major harmful effects of knuckle cracking, however, it does have adverse effects on your joints over a period of time, and can also be annoying or even distracting for the people around you.

Once it becomes a habit, it won’t be easy to get rid of it – But here are some tips that might help you break through:

  • Try finding and addressing the real problem that leads you to knuckle cracking
  • Try developing other stress-relieving habits such as meditation, exercise, deep breathing, etc.
  • Keeping your hands busy might also work – Squeezing a stress ball or rubbing a worry stone are some of the many things you can try
  • Consciously trying to break the habit by becoming alert every time you do it and trying to stop the next time can be beneficial


Habitual knuckle cracking in teenagers can be a cause of arthritis. A survey of an old age population with a history of popping didn’t find any direct relationship between popping cracking and degenerative changes of the metacarpal phalangeal joints.

If it’s a habit that you would want to continue with, don’t worry, it won’t cause anything major. However, if you are trying to have someone else stop cracking their knuckles, you will definitely need a much more convincing reason than the deterioration of joint health over a period of time. This also clearly seems to be the reason why the myth about arthritis came into existence. 

For concerns relating to knuckle cracking, joints, or even potential arthritis – you can get in touch with our physicians at Manhattan Medical Arts for appropriate guidance, diagnosis, and the consequent treatment. Give us a call, visit our practice, or go online to

– Disclaimer –
This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.

Or Book an appointment with our board-certified doctors at Manhattan Medical Arts.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by Dr. Syra Hanif, M.D. on 09/19/2022

Learn more about our editorial process.

  • About The Author

    Dr. Syra Hanif M.D.

    Board Certified Primary Care Physician

Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.

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