The sound of knuckles popping might be incredibly satisfying —or it might elicit the same response as nails on a chalkboard. No matter where you fall regarding your response to the sound, you may wonder if cracking your knuckles may be good for your joints.
There are many longstanding myths about the meaning behind the sound of knuckles popping, however, the one of the most common ones is that cracking your knuckles will cause arthritis.
What Happens When You Crack Your Knuckles?
The sound you hear when you crack your knuckles is tiny nitrogen bubbles bursting within your synovial fluid.1 Synovial fluid acts as a lubricant for your joints; it reduces friction as our joints move and helps to preserve your cartilage.1 The nitrogen bubbles pop when you pull the bones in your hands apart – either by stretching your fingers or creating negative pressure by bending them backwards.2 The pressure applied to your knuckles causes vapor pockets within the synovial fluid, which then creates a vacuum that sucks the joint apart rapidly.3
It takes about 20 minutes for those nitrogen bubbles to re-form after you’ve cracked your knuckles. During that time, you may feel as though you’ve relieved pressure in your joints.1 While the sounds may be incredibly satisfying, the feeling of relief is primarily a psychological experience.1 Your joint will separate for a very brief second, which makes it feel as though it has loosened up.3
Is There a Connection Between Popping Your Knuckles and Arthritis?
While there are a few different kinds of arthritis, osteoarthritis and knuckle popping are most often connected.3 This may be due to the fact that one of the major causes of osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in your bones breaks down and deteriorates, which can lead to stiffness, pain and swelling.3
However, most cases of significant osteoarthritis don’t occur until a patient is in their 40s, 50s or later.3 It’s a condition that’s related to genetics and aging, but an injury like a ligament tear can put someone at higher risk for arthritis, simply because that part of the body has been compromised.3 All that said, cracking your knuckles has not been shown to cause arthritis.1,2,3,4
Should I Keep Cracking My Knuckles?
While cracking or popping your knuckles has not been shown to cause arthritis, there is a right and a wrong way to do so, which is why proper technique is important.4 Be mindful of the direction that you’re bending your fingers, as well as the amount of force that you’re applying; cracking your knuckles isn’t supposed to be painful.4
In addition to pain, another consequence of popping your knuckles is temporary swelling 3 This effect is generally harmless, but if you’re not prepared for it, it may throw you for a loop. If the swelling doesn’t subside or if one of your fingers appears crooked afterwards, you should seek medical help as you may have injured a ligament or dislocated one of your fingers.4
If joint soreness from arthritis in your hands is keeping you from doing the things you love, reach for Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel. This prescription-strength, over-the-counter (OTC) NSAID topical gel helps to improve mobility and reduce stiffness and pain, so you can get back to living your life, which may include cracking your fingers.