Have you ever wondered the effects of knuckle cracking?
Many adults and children do crack their knuckles as an accidental habit or because they report this action provides relief.
To date, the results of several studies suggest that there is no direct evidence connecting knuckle cracking and hand arthritis or osteoarthritis. There is a study observing that knuckle crackers may suffer from decreased grip strength after many years of this habit. More studies still need to be done to investigate this question.
The phenomenon of joint cracking is not completely understood, however there are a few theories of what causes this action. “Crepitus” is the popping and cracking noise that joints make sometimes. Any joint can be “popped or cracked”, however, the knuckles of the fingers are common culprits. The knuckles are considered joints that are protected by a joint or synovial capsule. The joints are often immersed in fluid containing nutrients called, synovial fluid, which also lubricates the joints. Sometimes when one cracks the knuckles by either stretching the fingers, bending the fingers backwards or twisting them, negative pressure may cause a variety of gases including nitrogen or carbon dioxide, to be temporarily pulled into the joints and release bubbles creating that popping sound in addition to movement of tendons (attach muscles to bones) and ligaments (connect bones to other bones) around the joint.
Although, many respected medical centers seem to believe that habitual joint cracking probably won’t raise the risk for arthritis, there may be reasons to refrain/avoid this habit. One study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases (1990) found that patients who were knuckle crackers had a weakened hand grip strength and possibly more swelling or inflammation in their hands compared to those individuals who didn’t crack those knuckles.
Painless cracking of joints is most likely not harmful or beneficial.
If an individual experiences any pain, swelling, or decreased motion associated with cracking one’s knuckles or any joints, then it is time to seek medical attention from a physician like me, a rheumatologist for further investigation for an underlying joint condition.
Why can’t you possibly crack your knuckles twice in a row?
Sometimes when one cracks the knuckles by either stretching the fingers, bending the fingers backwards or twisting them, negative pressure may cause a variety of gases including nitrogen or carbon dioxide, to be temporarily pulled into the joints and release bubbles. There are theories that once an individual cracks their knuckles, it may take up to a half hour before the knuckles can be cracked again due to the time that it takes for the gases to re-dissolve into the synovial joint fluid.
Some people find knuckle cracking pleasurable because it can relieve tension
as there is movement of tendons and ligaments around the joint.
Others enjoy the soothing ” popping sound ” or crepitus that is heard and can help relieve some stress as there is a maneuver to focus on and provide a distraction.
Repetitive cracking can become a habit over time as an individual begins to do it subconsciously. There is a theory that large spacing between the knuckles can be found in some individuals and that may be a reason why someone may not be able to perform this maneuver.
Although, there is no concrete evidence that habitual joint cracking raises your risk for arthritis or is hurtful, there may be other ways to relieve stress and tension. I would suggest finding other ways or behaviors to distract oneself before it becomes a habit or an addiction. One study found that knuckle crackers had decreased grip strength, but another study (2017) did not have the same conclusion.
So although there is no direct correlation between this habit and the development of arthritis, you may want to find another activity to calm your nerves or pass time.