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What really happens when you Crack your Knuckles?

Jul 28, 2023 -- Posted by : Dr.Harcourt

Voluntary knuckle cracking is a common habit for between 25-45% of the adult population in the United States. Some people think it’s a harmless occurrence while others say it can cause arthritis in the hands. What does the available research say on the topic?

Before the late 1930s, researchers thought that only unhealthy joints cracked. But a study published in 1938 proved that cracking can also occur in normal joints. In 1947, scientists used x-rays to visualize the cracking of the large knuckle in hand. A slight separation occurred when a distracting force was applied. Once it reached a certain point, a cracking sound was heard when the joint space widened suddenly. This was followed by a twenty-minute period called the “refractory phase,” during which the joint gradually returned to its original resting position. 

However, a study published in 1971 refuted this finding with a conclusion that the formation of the clear space, was not the source of joint cracking but rather, the crack was caused by the collapse of the bubble, which they felt could damage the surfaces adjacent to the bubble. This is a process that occurs when two closely opposed surfaces are separated by a thin film of viscous fluid, and when rapidly distracted, viscous adhesion or tension between them releases, causing a negative pressure and creates a vapor cavity within fluid.

A 1990 study that included 300 osteoarthritis patients with functional hand impairment found no difference in arthritic symptoms between habitual knuckle crackers and non-knuckle crackers. But, the researchers did observe that the patients in the knuckle cracker group were more prone to hand swelling and weaker grip strength. A pair of 2017 studies found no difference in grip strength between knuckle crackers and non-knuckle crackers in another set of hand osteoarthritis patients, but the patients in the knuckle cracking group did exhibit increased cartilage thickness and a slight increase in range of motion in these knuckle joints. 

In 1998, Dr. Donald Unger wrote that he spent a half-century cracking the knuckles of his left hand but never his right. After fifty years, he reported no arthritis or other problems in either hand, despite cracking the knuckles in his left hand over 36,500 times. Ultimately, it appears that habitual knuckle cracking is probably safe. That being said, if excessive knuckle cracking stimulates symptoms, then stop and talk to your doctor of chiropractic to see if a more serious condition may be at play or if it may be time to adopt a new habit.

So, if you are interested in no longer chasing your tail on the pain gerbil wheel and type in pain management near me or chiropractor near me, you may find Coast Chiropractic Centers with Dr. Timothy Harcourt, me, comes up. 

You may wonder, “Is There a Better Way to Address Actually Fixing the Cause of the Pain?”

Once you have experienced the frustration of simply covering over the pain temporarily, you may be more enlightened to the idea of fixing the problem and then keep it that way. Some around you say one description of such an approach is called wellness care.


Call me, Dr. Tim Harcourt, at Coast Chiropractic Centers at (239) 278-3344 or stop by on your day off if we’re near you for a walk in visit and mention this article for an awesome discounted first visit to include history, exam, and adjustment or Class IV high-intensity laser treatment. So if you find yourself experiencing lower back pain while running or doing physical activities.

If you feel like a gerbil on a perpetual pain wheel and you know it is negatively affecting your quality of life and keeping you from enjoying walks at Fort Myers Beach, playing golf, tennis, pickle ball or others, come see us at Coast Chiropractic Centers located on 7270 College Parkway. 

Schedule Your Appointment Here

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If you would like to avoid getting back pain in the first place or to take a proactive approach to your health and wellness nearby, our membership program called Club C may be just the thing for you with great cost savings, convenience, and even more importantly, a plan to get your health back and keep it.

Don't let back pain stop you from enjoying the beautiful SWFL!  Dr. Tim Harcourt is here to give you the relief you need.


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