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It is surprising sometimes how are small little but ignorant habits can be a cause of major health concern for our body in the longer run. One such habit that many people do almost absent-mindedly is that of cracking their knuckles. Studies have shown that as many as 54 percent of people crack their knuckles.

Some of the reasons due to which people tend to do so include:

  • Some people are just fond of the sound that knuckle cracking produces, even while they are not aware about the same.
  • Certain other like the way it feels. Some are under the belief that cracking of knuckles makes more room in the joint, relieving tension and increasing mobility. There is no medical evidence if cracking actually does that.
  • When nervousness or stress shoots into some people, they tend to turn to cracking their knuckles.
  • It becomes an unconscious habit which does not demand much of efforts.


There are not very specific reasons known for the pop sound that comes when the knuckles are cracked. Some attribute it to the nitrogen bubbles either forming or collapsing in the joint fluid, while others believe it comes from movement of the ligaments around the knuckle. The tendons or muscles moving over the joint can also cause the sound.


There are no major concerns surrounding the knuckle cracking. However, if the cracking is painful, leads to swelling or changes the shape of the joint then it can be a cause of worry as it may be due to underlying gout or arthritis.

In rare scenarios, there are also chances of the finger being pulled out of the joint or the ligaments around the joint being injured.


As stated above as long as there is no pain or swelling or change in the joint shape, there is not a reason to worry. But if any of these signs show up or if your finger looks crooked or swollen, then one must get it evaluated by the doctor. The pain or swelling in the joints is usually due to an underlying condition and should be checked.

Usually the noises coming from the joints are not a worrisome symptom but if that persists over a long period of time with pain, then it could be a problem.

Cracking or popping accompanied with pain or swelling could also be a sign of:
Meniscus tears: The meniscus is a rubbery C-shaped disc that cushions the knee and absorbs shock but twisting or other sudden harsh movements can sometimes lead to its tear.

Cartilage wear or injury: The cartilage covering the bones can sometimes get injured and result in breaking off of a piece and a catch in the joint.


In a usual scenario, cracking or popping neither damages the joints, nor symbolizes initial arthritis stages. But sometimes a worn cartilage in the joints or the rubbing of bones together can cause pain.

However, if a person has pre-existing conditions like arthritis or other bone/joint related health conditions then they are suggested to avoid cracking their knuckles. People with weak bones should also not get into the cracking habit. Repetitive cracking can potentially become a botheration of we are not aware and informed. Cracking has also been observed to be socially annoying and a negative distraction for people around you. Some tips that can be used to break the cracking habit are:

  • Be observant and notice when or why you are likely to knuckle. Address that cause to avoid knuckling in a similar scenario next time.
  • If stress is resulting in cracking for you then come with alternatives for yourself to relieve that stress through deep breathing, exercise, or meditation.
  • If you tend to crack too frequently and mostly due to nervousness or stress, then keep a stress ball or worry stone near you to be squeezed or rubbed respectively when the situation arises.
  • When the habit is too rooted, some people also suggest wearing a rubber band on the wrist and snapping it every time one is about to crack the knuckles.
  • Stay aware of yourself and consciously make the efforts for your desired results.

BY: Dr. Ravichandra Kelkar, Consultant Orthopedics, Columbia Asia Hospital Hebbal

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