Ah, the age-old question: Is it really that bad to crack your knuckles? Of course, your mom has yelled at you about it for decades, but it’s something you do almost mindlessly every day.
This begs the question: Why do we do it? “No one knows,” says Joseph Robison, MD, orthopedic hand surgeon at Florida Hospital. “It is just a habit that feels good to some people. Like popping bubble wrap.”
And what exactly is the sound that we hear? “When the knuckle is stretched, the pressure in the joint drops and nitrogen gas that is dissolved in the joint fluid comes out and forms a bubble,” he says. “When that bubble breaks, it makes the sound.
The joints around your digits have tiny pockets that contain synovial fluid. When you twist a joint, essentially what you are doing is creating more space between your bones. That creates negative pressure. Then, voila, the fluid is transferred in the new space. That fluid flowing around is the popping noise you hear.
So is there long-term damage if we do it daily? According to Dr. Robison and countless studies, no. “There is absolutely no evidence that cracking your knuckles is bad for you or causes arthritis over time.”
It doesn’t seem to cause pain or swelling either. Same goes for toes, neck and ankles.
Cracking the knuckles are other body parts does stretch the ligaments out, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. If unusual pops or cracks come about, however, you may want to refrain.
Unfortunately, for you knuckle-crackers there seem to be no benefits, either. Well, other than the satisfaction of the bone-snapping sound and the fun sound effects. Oh, and maybe proving your mother wrong.