Skip to content

Knuckle "Cracking": It may be cringe-worthy but it's NOT harmful

The chief morbid consequence of knuckle cracking would appear to be its annoying effect on the observer.

So wrote the authors of an old study that sought to test the age-old assertion that “cracking” your knuckles will give you gnarly joints and arthritis. Twenty-eight people averaging 78 years of age participated in the study. Fifteen of those were confessed knuckle “crackers”. Of those, only one had a degenerative joint disease in the hands. (May 1975 issue of the Western Journal of Medicine, by Robert Swezey and Stuart Swezey from the University of Southern California School of Medicine – The Consequences of Habitual Knuckle Cracking)

Over the years, a host of other clinical studies have proven the same conclusion, using hundreds of test subjects. Knuckle “cracking” may make some people cringe, but it doesn’t lead to arthritis.

In fact, there is reason to believe it actually has benefits. According to a 2011 report by the American Board of Family Medicine, knuckle “cracking” may in fact help protect against osteoarthritis.

That study observed that after a “crack”, there is “immediate joint tension release and increased range of motion.”

chiropractic adjustment

The ‘pop’ you hear when you ‘crack’ your knuckles is the same as when you receive a chiropractic adjustment

Why are we bringing this up?

Because the mechanism that causes that “pop sound” when you “crack” your knuckles is exactly the same as the one that sometimes produces a “pop sound” when you have your spine adjusted at our clinic.

There is a misconception that your chiropractic adjustment can lead to arthritic degeneration of your spine, because chiropractors are “cracking” your spine.

But as many independent clinical studies have proven, what causes the “crack” does not pose that risk. It’s just a harmless sound effect, associated with restoring your spine to the proper alignment that nature intended.

In fact, it’s the failure to relieve tension in these joints and restore alignment with proper chiropractic care that can lead to arthritic degeneration (and we have stacks of x-rays to prove it)!

So what causes that ‘pop’ sound in these joints?

In a word, gas.

Where bones in your fingers and spine contact each other, there is a cushioning material called cartilage. These cartilage surfaces are surrounded by a capsule that contains synovial fluid. This fluid contains dissolved blood gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, and CO2.

When you “crack” your knuckles, you are putting pressure on that capsule that forces these dissolved gases out of the fluid. They form bubbles inside the capsule that forces your joint to stretch, which increases mobility.

You can’t “crack” your knuckles again until these gases are reabsorbed and the joint contracts back to its usual size. That takes about 17 to 22 minutes.

The same process is happening when you hear a “pop” sound in your back.

The bottom line is this – “cracking” your knuckles is not a habit that will lead to arthritis, and neither is getting your spine adjusted at our Kanata clinic.

Did you find this information useful?

I hope you did. Please share it with your friends. You can also follow Hazeldean Family Chiropractic on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, where we regularly post on other health-related topics. Our website also has great information about Chiropractic care and other health-related topics, such as selecting the proper pillow for your sleeping habits.

1 Join the Conversation

  1. Greg Squires says
    May 18, 2017 at 2:38 PM

    Thanks Erin and Pierre! Now I have a better understanding of why you are "cracking" my neck (for better range of motion which I figure leads to more effective stretches which will help bring my spine into proper alignment). Did I get it? :-)

Add Your Comment (Get a Gravatar)

Your Name


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.