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What Should I Know About Cracking Knuckles and Arthritis?

Michael Pollick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Perhaps the most important thing to understand about the relationship between cracking knuckles and arthritis is there is no relationship between cracking knuckles and arthritis. The art of knuckle cracking may be cringe-inducing to some, but practitioners are not necessarily setting themselves up for a lifetime of anti-inflammatory medications and mentholated hand cremes. A lifetime of swollen knuckles is not out of the question, however.

Knuckle popping involves applying a certain amount of pressure against one or more finger joints, primarily the first joints closest to the hand. If done correctly, the knuckle joints will separate slightly and a loud popping or cracking noise can be heard. Once all of the available finger or toe knuckles have all been cracked or popped, there is usually a recovery time before they can be cracked again. Some people are capable of popping virtually every joint in their hands, feet and even a few vertebrae in their necks and spines.

Because long-term habitual knuckle cracking can cause the knuckles to become swollen or stiff, some have tried to prove a connection between cracking knuckles and arthritis, although the two conditions are triggered by entirely different mechanisms. Arthritis is an inflammatory disease which can affect almost every joint in a person's body, while knuckle cracking can only be performed safely on relatively few joints.

Many joints in the human body are lubricated with a substance known as synovial fluid. This fluid tends to collect between knuckle joints, and over time it produces bubbles of nitrogen gas. A knuckle cracker hyper-extends the knuckle joints, allowing this build-up of nitrogen gas to escape. The released gas creates the satisfying popping sound which designates a successful knuckle cracking. It can take from several minutes to several hours before the synovial fluid creates more nitrogen bubbles, which is why most knuckle crackers can only produce one pop per knuckle.

While the process of releasing nitrogen bubbles through knuckle cracking is considered relatively harmless, it can lead to some stiffness, swelling and pain around the joints over time. Because of the similarities between arthritis and habitual knuckle cracking symptoms, it is easy to understand how the two conditions could become intertwined in a person's mind. While arthritis is a chronic condition which often requires years of treatment, the effects of habitual knuckle cracking are generally temporary and can be reduced significantly once the habit is broken.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon190819 — On Jun 27, 2011

"It can take from several minutes to several hours before the synovial fluid creates more nitrogen bubbles, which is why most knuckle crackers can only produce one pop per knuckle."

I have a toe joint that literally takes about two seconds before the synovial fluid creates more nitrogren bubbles, which means I can constantly crack that particular knuckle over and over and over again, 24/7. How odd is this irregularity?

By anon90967 — On Jun 19, 2010

all i want to know is, is cracking your knuckles okay because a friend of mine said it can give you those chubby starfish hands. You know, the ones that little chubby people have.

By anon90427 — On Jun 16, 2010

It seems every joint in my body cracks loudly and with very little conscious solicitation on my part. For example, just shifting my weight can cause a loud knee crack. This can be embarrassing at social functions such as church, when the slightest movement causes a loud "pop".

I did some research and found a positive correlation between hyper-crepitation and thyroid disease.

I have been diagnosed with Hashimoto's Hypothyroidism as a result of a pituitary tumor, so my personal experience supports the research. I'm concerned about hyper extension of my joints in the future as a result of this constant cracking.

By anon86397 — On May 25, 2010

I'm 18 years old, and every day i crack my back, neck, knuckles and whatever else i "feel" needs to be cracked. i do this many times during a day, every day. Could this lead to something severe?

By anon77504 — On Apr 14, 2010

I have cracked my knuckles for years now more out of habit. Now it seems that it helps to relieve the vibrating pain in my knuckles. I can crack with a five- minute recovery time. It always seems to be my third and fourth finger.

By anon42747 — On Aug 23, 2009

There seems to be so many pros and cons...to crack or not to crack. I, myself have a jaw that gets so tight I feel if I don't "crack it" I'll scream sometimes. I have TMJ though and I know what it feels like for it to be "out of place" or "locked" in an open position while I'm eating. My doctor told me that continuing to "crack" it will make it worse and possibly mean surgery later on to put it back where it's supposed to be. When it's loose from cracking it too much I suffer continuous headaches, face and jaw aches -- can't sleep. So, I've finally taken my doctor's advice and stopped cracking it, though it was so hard to do. It hasn't slipped "out of place" in a very long time, my headaches etc. have diminished. For me, the doctor was right. Everyone is different though.

By anon40656 — On Aug 10, 2009

from what i have read the knuckles can't be cracked continually. My girlfriend can crack her knuckles every second of every minute. Why is that?

By anon40257 — On Aug 07, 2009

It was my understanding that the bubbles formed in the joint in response to the negative pressure of the act of popping (a momentary disarticulation of a joint) which then broke the surface tension of the synovial fluid. If this explained the inability to "crack" knuckles, then where do the bubbles go? They shouldn't leave the joint. I understood the inability to crack knuckles as it taking time for the synovial fluid to redissolve the nitrogen gas.

The irritability and pain when they are not cracked has more to do with the joint being stretched on a regular basis, and then not stretched for a day or so. The pain and irritability has more to do with not stretching the ligaments around the joint than to do with the actual popping.

By anon40246 — On Aug 07, 2009

People who crack their knuckles are gross and disgusting. It's the same as farting or picking your nose in front of others. Do it in private, please, instead of making the rest of us want to kill you for messing up our shared space.

By anon40237 — On Aug 07, 2009

what exercise should i apply for my osteoporosis. and medicines needed?

By anon28639 — On Mar 19, 2009

I've been cracking my knuckles since I was very young. Now my hands are throbbing. If I don't crack my knuckles they start to hurt tremendously. It's great that it's painful to try and quit doing this...

By gremlin — On Mar 10, 2009

I can both of the joints in each of my fingers. I can crack my thumb, ankle, wrist, back, neck, knees, and ankles. I was always told that I am going to get arthritis if I keep doing, but now I know that I won't. I'm going to tell my friends that it is not going to cause us pain in later years. Yeah!!! Yey!!

By reema — On Mar 01, 2009

i can crack almost my entire back since i was 18 and it gives me massive relief from my upper back pain, especially in my neck area. can the causes of my upper back pain and my persistent urge to crack my back be inter-related? if even for a single day i do not crack my back i feel restless and irritated.

why is it so? can this have long term repercussions? almost all my joints can be cracked including my achilles heels. but the problem essentially lies with my back..help! i am 26 years old.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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