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Myths and Risks of Knuckle-Cracking

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Myths and Risks of Knuckle-Cracking

By Allie Firestone, DivineCaroline

As a lifelong knuckle cracker, I’ve heard the spiel dozens of times–you know, keep popping and you’ll end up with arthritis. Because of this, I’ve always kept an eye out for any proof that’ll prove my naggers wrong. Unfortunately, all I’ve figured out over the years is that there’s a lot of conflicting information out there when it comes to the harm that popping our joints causes.

More than a few times, annoyed parents and teachers have told me I’ll end up with old, arthritic hands if I continue cracking my knuckles–but so far, my fingers look no worse for the wear. Is it really a bad choice for our joint health? Does it actually (crossing my crackable fingers) help us? Is repetitive cracking risky? In an attempt to get to the bottom of the situation, I consulted medical authorities for their take on cracking.

“The jury is still out on whether cracking joints is a harmful or benign process,” says Lindsay Segal, a graduate practitioner in Samuel Merritt University’s physician assistant program. But as it turns out, studies have shown a few reliable connections between knuckle cracking and some particular joint-related problems.

What’s in a Pop?
First, I figured I should find out a little more about my knuckles. Like all joints, they’re the place where two bones come together to allow movement–we have them in our wrists, knees, and everywhere else we can bend. Tough, flexible tissues called ligaments hold them together. Joints are covered with a capsule filled with a special kind of liquid, called synovial fluid, that acts as a lubricant as we move around; they also contain small amounts of dissolved gas, which is what causes that pop when we crack them.

“The noise you hear with the cracking of a joint is due to a sudden release in joint pressure,” says Segal. “This releases the dissolved gases in the joint fluid.” This explains why we can’t pop and pop and pop–the gas has to build up again before it can be released, which takes about twenty minutes.

So why, then, can some of us crack more than others?

“It’s speculated that the laxity, or looseness, of the joint itself increases the more you crack it,” says Segal. It makes sense, therefore, that it’s very easy for me to crack my knuckles every twenty minutes, while some of my friends are unable to get even one pop out of theirs.

Joints might also make cracking sounds when our smooth cartilage breaks down, creating a rough joint surface (this is typical in arthritic joints). Another cause for cracking is when a tendon moves slightly out of place and then snaps back–this occurrence is common in knees and shoulders. Knees and ankles can also make cracking sounds when the ligaments tighten as we move our joints.

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Read more: Arthritis, General Health, Health

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DivineCaroline

At DivineCaroline.com, women come together to learn from experts in the fields, of health, sustainability, and culture; to reflect on shared experiences; and to express themselves by writing and publishing stories about anything that matters to them. Here, real women publish like real pros. Together, with our staff writers, they’re discussing all facets of women’s lives from relationships and careers, to travel and healthy living. So come discover, read, learn, laugh and connect at DivineCaroline.com.

105 comments

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2:11AM PDT on Apr 13, 2013

My daughter cracks her knuckles and it drives me batty! Thanks for sharing.

3:42PM PDT on Apr 5, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

8:59AM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

I hate the sound of cracking joints

4:25PM PDT on Apr 2, 2012

No more cracking for me!

4:23AM PST on Nov 16, 2010

dont crack them then

6:20AM PDT on Oct 28, 2010

Thanks for the info.

4:08PM PDT on Aug 30, 2010

@Crystal: Looks like I have to see a doctor. I have got to trust you because I have seen that one of the reasons behind arthritis is excessive usage of joints and cracking ofcourse is one of the usage above the normal.

6:05PM PDT on Aug 29, 2010

@Ashish Maheshwari: I live in AZ so there goes that theory. It is very dry climate here & I have lived here my whole life. Trust me, I know from experience, it's not a habit u want to develop. I started as a child & I fully regret it now. I have arthritis in my hands, neck & probably my knees now too.

7:24PM PDT on Aug 26, 2010

Well. I have been cracking my knuckles, knees and wrists for last three years ever since I shifted to Chennai where humidity is very high. Before coming to Chennai I had lived in somewhat dry cilmate, though, changing with times. I think once I will move back to dry climate, my cracking habit will stop or atleast reduce because immediately before moving to Chennai, I wasn't cracking at all ( I was in Bangalore then). I think, I am an addictive personality. I smoke regulary. I would never say that one who is doing it should stop it because they never started it on their own it happened on its own and so it has to stop ( if at all required) on its own. When the body feels it like cracking, it has to crack, there is no way to control it in my opinion therefore it would be useless to go against the body. I would rather like to associate this cracking with climate or climate related changes and addictive personality ( as someone stated above) but yes, nothing is sure and even I would like to keep visiting this page to see more. I am 31 now let's see.....Thank you for your inputs.

7:00AM PDT on Jul 27, 2010

Thanks.

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