What happens when I crack my knuckles?

By Ori S.

  Many kids and adults crack their knuckles, neck, or back because they find the sound it makes satisfying. What many people don’t realize is that the long term effects of this can be quite dangerous.

  The popping sounds that are heard are called cavitation. When a joint is moved too quickly, the fluid that is inside the joint space is moved and that creates bubbles. The popping of the bubbles is what makes the cracking or popping sound that is heard.  

  There is a reason that the same knuckle cannot be popped or cracked two times in a row. After the gas bubbles that are in the joint are popped, it takes some time for the new bubbles to be able to form again inside of the joint.

  The cracking of joints is often times confused with the snapping sound that is made by stiff tendons or other bands of soft tissue that slides between muscle. The tendons are what keep the muscles attached to the bones, while the ligaments connect the bones to other bones.

  Many doctors believe that when the tendons are snapped quickly over a joint, it will result in a popping noise. On the other hand, ligaments will make those same popping noises when they tighten up while the joint is moving.

  There are many people who think that popping their joints will lead to arthritis, more specifically osteoarthritis. If someone has osteoarthritis, it means that the cartilage within their joints has been significantly damaged and the synovial fluid is typically reduced as well.

  Although many people believe either of these outcomes can be common, there is little evidence to prove them to be true. However, the cracking of knuckles can soften the grip and will likely lead to soft tissue swelling.

  The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences examined 215 people, and they found out that about 20% of the people examined cracked their knuckles regularly. From the people who did crack their knuckles, about 18% of them had arthritis in their hand, while about 21.5% of people who did not crack their knuckles also had arthritis in their hands as well.

  Overall, studies show that the chances of getting arthritis are the same whether or not someone cracks their knuckles. While knuckle cracking is unlikely to be able to cause arthritis, it can lead to soft tissue swelling and a softened grip.



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