Is Cracking Your Knuckles Bad for You? - Advanced Physical Medicine
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Is Cracking Your Knuckles Bad for You?

Short answer is: No.

But don’t stop reading! Don’t you want to know what actually happens when you make that little popping sound? And what if you do it regularly for years-- could it hurt you then?

The myth about the damage that cracking knuckles does came from the sound that it makes—people thought that when you make the cracking sound, you must be breaking something. That is not the case!

At a joint, where two bones meet, there is a covering of articular cartilage. The bones are held together by other connective tissues like ligaments as well. The joint capsule surrounds the joint, containing the lubrication to help move the joint. This lubrication is called sinovial fluid, and it is made from dissolved oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

To crack a knuckle, you first stretch the bones apart, creating extra space in the connective tissue capsule. The increased volume decreases the pressure, and the sinovial fluid expands. The pressure also releases the dissolved gasses rapidly, causing the cracks. Bubbles bursting in the sinovial fluid are called cavitation, and it happens when the gasses become less soluble in the fluid.

After you crack your joints the first time, you won’t be able to do it again for the next 30 minutes while the gas dissolves back into the joint fluid. Try it out—30 minutes later, you will definitely be able to pop the same joints again. Releasing the pressure feels great, doesn’t it? The only real problem or damage that cracking joints could cause comes from forceful cracking—so just do it when you feel the pressure building.

Numerous studies have shown that cracking knuckles do not lead to arthritis, but there is a relationship between knuckle-cracking and hand swelling, loss of lower grip strength, ligament damage, soft tissue injuries and dislocation of tendons. This is really only the result of rapid, repeated stretching of ligaments, like what happens to major league pitchers. Risk is minimal for the rest of us, however.

There is evidence that cracking does increase mobility in joints, though! When joints are cracked, the Golgi tendon organs (a group of nerve endings involved in human motion sense) get stimulated and relax nearby muscles. That is why you feel loose and invigorated after an adjustment in the chiropractor’s office!

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