How to stop cracking your knuckles

Knuckle cracking is a common habit but, as with any habit, if you want to break it, you must firstly ensure that you have the desire to stop.

Is the habit harmful? Does it matter if you don’t stop cracking your knuckles?

Although there is no evidence that knuckle cracking leads to arthritis – as was once assumed – it can lead to other problems. For example, It can cause swelling of the joints and reduction of hand control and strength.

Depending upon its severity, knuckle cracking can be a sign of more serious nervous disorders, or even deeper psychological issues.

What actually causes the cracking sound?

The act of knuckle cracking pulls the bones and cartilage apart which releases the synovial fluid that lubricates the joint. This fluid comprises a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen; when brought into contact with air it turns into a gas – and that’s what makes the “popping” sound.

What are the dangers of knuckle cracking?

People who have cracked their knuckles for very long periods of time have developed symptoms that include:

  • Slightly reduced hand strength.
  • Swollen or painful hands.
  • Soft tissue damage to the joint capsule(s).
  • Damage to the hand’s ligaments, the soft tissues that connect our bones.

How to stop? Use Behavioral Therapy!

If you want to stop, then behavioral therapy techniques are the solution.

There are two basic forms of behavioral therapy: positive and negative.

Positive behavioral therapy includes techniques like reward systems.

Negative techniques include minor punishments or other reminders to make the person aware of their habit, so they can stop.

Here is a summary of the various options:

  1. Keep your hands busy. – Learn to twirl a pencil or a coin, for example.
  2. Take up some kind of hobby that keeps your hands (and mind) busy, like drawing, writing, or arts and crafts.
  3. Use the rubber band method – When you notice you are about to crack your knuckles pull on the rubber band and snap it back onto your skin. The slight sting you feel will help you to break your habit as you will come to associate your knuckle cracking with pain.
  4. Carry a small hand lotion tube around with you in your pocket or purse. When you feel the urge to crack your knuckles, rub the lotion on your hands – it gives you something else to do.
  5. More drastically – put tape around your “knocking knuckles” or tape your fingertips to your palm to make a fist.
  6. Put socks on your hands while watching television or doing other activities that don’t require the use of your hands.
  7. Keep a pen/pencil in your hand to prevent cracking or “strumming” your fingers.

Knuckle cracking is a nervous symptom of something in your subconscious mind. If you want to stop, it is important to become aware of it and to make the conscious decision to stop whenever you find yourself doing it. Try to discover the source of the anxiety or stress.

For those of you whose friend or partner is a knuckle cracker, bear in mind that nagging or complaining about the habit is more likely to make it worse than make it go away.

Nagging only leads to more stress, which increases the nervous reaction to that stress. Gentle reminders are much more effective than constant nagging.

If you still find that you are unable to stop cracking your knuckles, seek professional help.

Do you crack your knuckles – or have you managed to stop?

Share your experience and thoughts with our readers by using the comments feed provided below.

How to stop cracking your knuckles

Knuckle cracking is a common behavior enjoyed by many. It can become a habit or a way to deal with nervous energy; some describe it as a way to "release tension." For some, it’s simply an annoying thing that other people do.

If you’ve ever wondered why stretching the fingers in certain ways causes that familiar noise or whether knuckle cracking is harmful in some way, read on. Despite how common it is, there has been considerable debate regarding where the noise comes from. Fortunately — at least for those of us who are curious about it — knuckle cracking has been the subject of a fair amount of research.

Here’s some of what we know about knuckle cracking

  • The "cracking" of knuckle cracking seems to be produced by increasing the space between finger joints. This causes gas bubbles in the joint fluid to collapse or burst. It’s a bit like blowing up a balloon and then stretching the walls of the balloon outward until it pops.
  • The reason you can’t crack the same knuckle or joint twice right away is that it takes some time for the gas bubbles to accumulate again in the joint.
  • Cracking the knuckles is probably harmless. Although there have been occasional reports of dislocations or tendon injuries from overly vigorous knuckle cracking, such problems seem very much to be the exception and not the rule.

How do we know that knuckle cracking is harmless?

One of the most convincing bits of evidence suggesting that knuckle cracking is harmless comes from a California physician who reported on an experiment he conducted on himself. Over his lifetime, he regularly cracked the knuckles of only one hand. He checked x-rays on himself after decades of this behavior and found no difference in arthritis between his hands. A larger study came to a similar conclusion.

There are rare medical reports of problems associated with this behavior that may relate to how much force is applied and one’s particular technique. For example, joint dislocations and tendon injuries have been described after attempts to crack knuckles. One study published in 1990 found that among 74 people who regularly cracked their knuckles, their average grip strength was lower and there were more instances of hand swelling than among 226 people who did not crack their knuckles. However, the incidence of arthritis was the same in both groups.

And another study created a mathematical model of a knuckle that helped confirm that the noise comes from collapsing gas bubbles.

What about other sounds coming from the joints?

The origin of most joint noises, such as popping sounds or cracking of the knees when squatting, is uncertain. They may come from the kneecap rubbing on the bones below, or a tendon sliding across an irregular surface. However, in the absence of pain, swelling, or other joint symptoms, these sounds are probably nothing to be concerned about, and there is no reliable way to silence them.

The bottom line on knuckle cracking

If you want to crack your knuckles, it’s unlikely to cause you harm. But if you want someone else to stop cracking their knuckles, you’ll need a better reason than telling them they’re ruining their joints.

Image: Andrey Popov/Getty Images

Disclaimer:

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Comments

i think it’s linked to stress because when i’m cracking knuckles i feel like i want to hurt myself trying to break my finger or something. the sound it’s making gives me satisfaction about my frustration. the action of cracking sounds like trying to break something in order to make diversion of my stress and pressure to my hand. that’s why i always crack knuckles when i’m thinking about something never when i’m in action.

Although it’s true, it isn’t dangerous and doesn’t represent any depreciation of a bony structure, it actually can weaken grip strength. There are several publications in pub Med that point to this. It’s most notably talked about amongst gymnasts. It’s postulated to create laxity in the ligaments and tendons that traverse the joints of contention, thereby weakening their contribution toward grip strength. I can only imagine that the strength reduction is modest at best. DPM

Hi Rob:
This is Mimi — Remember me from days at HHP? I’m still out here and enjoying reading your pithy commentaries. When I saw “knuckle cracking”, I knew you would be the author.

Arthritis Causes Knuckle Cracking

That’s right – or at the very least plausible – that you’ve had it backwards all these years. Arthritis causes knuckle cracking, not the other way around.

There is no medical evidence that knuckle cracking causes arthritis; not one study.

If a young person had mild discomfort or stiffness in his hands, would he crack his knuckles to make them feel better? Yes, he would; and he does.

In my chiropractic practice, I find that young people who crack their knuckles, have early, mild arthritis. These same young people also usually have signs, obvious to a trained physician, of arthritis in their necks and other parts of their spines.

There is nothing inherently wrong with knuckle cracking. It simply must be recognized as a probable early warning sign of arthritis, and we need to get our story straight!

Note: Arthritis is, in most all cases, treatable, and in some cases “curable”.

Will cracking knuckles for a long period of time increase the size of the actual joint? An older figure shared with me that since she had cracked the knuckles on her hands for her whole life, her hands had very large joints. I’m still curious about this, even after a decade!

How to stop cracking your knuckles

When I was growing up there was a little convenience store at the corner of the street I was living on. To this day, I can still remember the owner because of his odd, big hands, with huge bulging knuckles. When I asked my dad why his hands were like that, he told me it was because he cracked his knuckles a lot and that I shouldn’t be popping my knuckles because my hands will become like his. I must admit, I stopped cracking my knuckles for many years after that. I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s been told this by their parents. Even now when I go to schools on career day, the number one question I get is, “is cracking my knuckles bad?” It’s funny that even after all these years this myth still exists.

SYNOVIAL FLUID SURROUNDS THE JOINTS, WHICH DECREASES FRICTION BETWEEN THE BONES DURING MOVEMENTS

What Are Those Popping Sounds During A Chiropractic Adjustment in Palm Harbor FL?

This is a great time to bring up chiropractic adjustments in Palm Harbor. For those of you that are fearful of adjustments and think that popping sound is your bones, it is not. As I explained above, that noise is gas bubbles within your joints. And for those of you that love that cracking noise when you get adjusted (I do too) and think the more pops you hear then the more effective the adjustment is, you are false too. The popping is just a common side effect that happens when adjusted due to the joint being stretched. The adjustment is equally powerful and effective regardless of the amount of pops. That’s why there are chiropractic techniques that use instruments and tables with drops during which you will never hear any pops but still get all the benefits of an adjustment.The truth is, there is no scientific link between knuckle cracking and arthritis or any other medical condition. As I was looking up different studies about this topic there was only one that implied knuckle cracking may lead to some hand weakness later in life, while another study found an increased range of motion in the groups that did pop their knuckles. However, most of the research has not found any side effects or direct link to arthritis from long term knuckle popping. So, what’s making that popping noise? (another question I get asked often). All joints are surrounded by fluid called synovial fluid, which decreases friction between the bones during movements. This fluid contains oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide gases. So, when you crack a joint you stretch the joint capsule, which rapidly releases these gases which form bubbles causing that popping noise. A fun fact is that you have to wait 20 to 30 minutes to crack the same joint again, because the gases have to re-dissolve into the joint fluid.

The bottom line: knuckle popping does not cause big arthritic hands. Sorry parents. However, if you have any pain when cracking your knuckles or other joints then it is best to inform your doctor, as there may be an underlying issue.

Call Ignite Chiropractic & Wellness in Palm Harbor today to schedule an appointment.

How to stop cracking your knuckles

You may hate to admit it, but almost all of us have at least one bad habit. Some of these bad habits can pose some serious health risks. We all have heard that bad habits are hard to break…until now. No matter what your bad habit—nail biting, smoking or knuckle cracking—where there is a will there is a way. Today, we’re going to focus on knuckle-cracking risks and share simple steps to kick that habit and teach you how to stop cracking your knuckles for good.

Here’s how to stop cracking your knuckles once and for all.

What’s in a Pop?

Knuckle cracking pulls the bones and cartilage apart which releases the synovial fluid that lubricates the joint. This fluid is a mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. When combined with air it turns into a gas—this is what makes that “popping” sound.

The Dangers of Knuckle Cracking

If you’re someone who has cracked your knuckles for a long time, you may have developed one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Painful or swollen hands
  • Reduced hand strength
  • Soft tissue damage to the joint capsules
  • Damage to your hand’s ligaments—that soft tissue that connects the bones

This potential damage to your hands is a good reason to use the following tips. They will help you figure out how to stop cracking your knuckles today.

3 Tips for Breaking the Habit

It may seem hard, but you should stop cracking knuckles! We’ve put together a simple 3-step solution to tell you how to stop cracking your knuckles—now!

  • Find the cause. The first step is to figure out when and why you crack your knuckles. When you notice when you’re doing it and what feelings are attached to it, you may be able to figure out why you can’t resist all that popping and will be able to stop.
  • Keep your hands busy. Not busy cracking knuckles! Distract your hands by twirling a pencil or squeezing a stress ball. Or, keep your hands and mind busy by writing, drawing or doodling.
  • Write it down. Not only will you keep your hands busy writing, but when you write something down it will really sink in. Jot down your emotions surrounding the knuckle cracking and what is going on in your head when you do it. Analyze what you wrote and look at what your triggers are—do you crack your knuckles when you’re bored? Anxious? Having it in writing will make you more conscious of your bad habit and make it easier to stop cracking knuckles for good.

Once you’re hooked on knuckle-cracking it can seem hard to stop. If you keep it up for years, you risk damaging tendons, ligaments and joints in your hand. Your hands will thank you if you use these tips to break the habit today!

I have a bad habit of cracking my knuckles. This includes the bones in my neck, hands, and feet. I need to stop because it is getting to the point where I do it in front of others and it bothers them. I usually do it when I am bored or anxious. How do I get rid of this annoying habit?

meh, screw'em. if someone says something tell them it's a nervous habit you have and aren't conscious of, that's what I do.

And it has no negative effects. It was disproved that cracking knuckles cause arthritis.

Keep a rubber a rubber band around your wrist. Every time you crack your knuckles, pull on the rubber band and give yourself a big painful snap on the wrist. My mom used this method to stop biting her nails

Personally, I say screw it. There hasn't been a lot of proof that says cracking knuckles is bad for you, and seeing as it's more of a stress relief thing than anything else, I just say do it. If people don't like it, then they can continue to not crack their own knuckles.

However, if you really want to quit, no one else can help you. There isn't a whole lot you can do besides increase your willpower and refuse to crack your knuckles. You can try little tips and tricks that may last for a while, but if it's a really big problem for you, you just gotta quit.

The truth – and the myth – behind the cracking knuckles debate

How to stop cracking your knuckles

Cracking your knuckles may aggravate the people around you, but it probably won’t raise your risk for arthritis. That’s the conclusion of several studies that compared rates of hand arthritis among habitual knuckle-crackers and people who didn’t crack their knuckles.

The “pop” of a cracked knuckle is caused by bubbles bursting in the synovial fluid — the fluid that helps lubricate joints. The bubbles pop when you pull the bones apart, either by stretching the fingers or bending them backward, creating negative pressure. One study’s authors compared the sudden, vibratory energy produced during knuckle cracking to “the forces responsible for the destruction of hydraulic blades and ship propellers.”

Even if knuckle cracking doesn’t cause arthritis, there’s still good reason to let go of the habit. Chronic knuckle-cracking may lead to reduced grip strength. And there are at least two published reports of injuries suffered while people were trying to crack their knuckles.

For more information on keeping your hand healthy, nimble, and strong, buy Hands: Strategies for Strong, Pain-Free Hands, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

Disclaimer:

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

How to stop cracking your knuckles

For some, knuckle cracking is reminiscent of Bollywood film heroes getting ready to take on 10 bad guys at once, while others just go about killing their idle time, turning and twisting their fingers and knuckles to produce a cracking sound. But why do we do it?

Knuckle cracking is a common habit among many, especially noticeable while taking a break from hours of work or while sitting idle at home. It is also a sign of nervousness or to deal with stress among some people, while for others it is merely something they do to pass the time.

There have been various arguments made for and against the practice (or habit) of knuckle cracking. Knuckle cracking has often been thought to cause arthritis—popping sounds made by other joints in the body are also linked to this chronic disease which causes joint inflammation. Although there isn’t conclusive evidence regarding this, it may be an underlying symptom if your knuckles or fingers hurt while doing so.

The "popping" sound that comes cracking ones knuckles is due to the extension of the joints in the fingers. There are theories that this causes the bubbles in the fluid of the joint to burst. This is why you cannot experience the same sensation immediately after cracking a finger, as the bubbles take some time to collect again.

Even though it is considered to be a largely harmless act, there have been instances of finger dislocations or flared or injured tendons as a result of cracking your knuckles too often. Read on for more on why we crack our knuckles and is it safe.

  1. Why do people crack their knuckles?
  2. Causes of knuckle cracking
  3. Side effects of knuckle cracking
  4. When should one see a doctor
  5. How to stop knuckle cracking

Why do people crack their knuckles?

More than half the global population is estimated to have the habit of cracking their knuckles, which is significant, with more men indulging in this activity than women. And while most consider it to be a stress-relieving act, others around the person doing it may find it rude or impolite.

Many people find knuckle cracking to be second nature, close to other behavioural habits such as touching your face frequently. However, there are several reasons attributed to this practice and why people do it:

  • For most people, knuckle cracking comes from habit. Most habitual people end up cracking their knuckles at least five times a day, without even realising it.
  • Some people indulge in the habit simply because of the "popping" sound it makes, even while cracking their toes.
  • Knuckle cracking has also been associated with stress and as part of a person's coping mechanism to deal with it.
  • Feeling nervous or jittery about something can also produce certain physical reactions, and knuckle cracking is one of them.
  • The knuckle-cracking sound is thought to be a result of the bubbles in the fluid between joints bursting or popping, and some associate it with a tension relieving practice.

Causes of knuckle cracking

Much like other joints in the body like the neck or the back, even our fingers and knuckles produce cracking sounds upon being bent or pulled a certain way.

The popping sound is thought to come from the bursting of bubbles present in the fluid in the joints. These bubbles comprise gases such as carbon dioxide, which are released when the fingers are bent or extended from the joints.

However, studies done later on this subject suggest the sound hasn't been conclusively linked to the bursting of bubbles—instead, knuckle cracking leads to the formation of cavities. The scientists studied real-time footage using MRI images, and found that there was cavity creation in the joint when the joints were bent that resulted in the cracking sound.

Another study performed in 2018 found that the sound is caused by the partial collapse of the cavities in the joints, and it takes time for new cavities to be formed, which is the reason why you are unable to produce the same cracking sound immediately after cracking your knuckles once.

Side effects of knuckle cracking

In an article published in the Swiss Medical Journal in 2017, titled "A review about sounds produced by joints", researchers said they found no evidence connecting cracking knuckles with arthritis.

Another doctor performed a study on himself, having cracked the knuckles only on his left hand for 50 years more than twice a day, and avoided doing so on the knuckles in his right hand. He reported no difference between the fingers in either hand, nor did they show any signs of arthritis.

Another, much larger study published in the Western Journal of Medicine studied a geriatric patient population with a history of knuckle cracking and found no correlation between the habit and arthritis or similar degenerative conditions.

There have also been some other conditions associated with knuckle cracking, such as the habit could reduce the strength of your grip or lead to swollen or larger joints in the fingers, but no conclusive evidence has been found regarding such theories as well.

However, even though all available evidence points towards the activity being largely harmless, if knuckle cracking leads to pain in your fingers or joints or causes swelling, it is best to avoid doing it repeatedly. Pain in the fingers or swollen joints could point towards an underlying condition such as gout, or even arthritis, even though there isn’t a direct correlation between the two.

Another danger of knuckle cracking too often or vigorously is that can lead to finger dislocations or tendon damage.

When should one see a doctor

Although available research suggests that knuckle cracking is mostly a harmless habit, some of the above-mentioned instances could cause you to take a trip to the doctor's office:

Why hypnosis is ideal to help you stop this annoying habit

How to stop cracking your knuckles

It feels like fun at first. There’s something satisfying about pulling that finger or thumb out… out… out… until Crack! There goes the joint. It can hurt a bit. Or a lot.

But who cares? What a great noise! Do it again, louder! It all seems pretty harmless, but once you’re hooked on knuckle cracking, it can be surprisingly hard to stop.

Can cracking your knuckles do you any harm?

Why would you want to stop cracking your knuckles, anyway? It doesn’t hurt anyone (unlike some other habits). It doesn’t leave any mess. It doesn’t damage your health… or does it? If you only cracked your knuckles once in a while, you wouldn’t suffer any particular ill effects.

But if you keep it up for years, you risk damaging joints, tendons and ligaments in your hand. So your hands could be glad when you stop.

Other good reasons to lay off the knuckle cracking

But there are other reasons why you might like to stop cracking your knuckles. Firstly, it’s a pain to be the prisoner of any compulsive habit. Sure, if you really want to crack those joints, go ahead. But don’t be forced into it because you can’t stop yourself. Secondly, mannerisms like knuckle cracking can be seriously irritating and off-putting to others. And they can make you appear nervous and lacking in confidence.

So it can be good for your health, your personal autonomy, your self-esteem and your social standing to put the habit of cracking your knuckles behind you.

Tacking unconscious patterns using the tools of the unconscious

But where do you start? Compulsive habits, by definition, tend to resist our best efforts to use will-power to break them. They are tough unconscious patterns!

Fortunately, when it comes to dealing with the unconscious, you have access to the ultimate tool – hypnosis. In hypnosis, your brain enters the same ‘brain state’ that it uses to create automatic behaviors. And this is just what you want in this instance – to create a new automatic behavior which automatically gets you doing something other than cracking your knuckles.

How hypnosis can help you stop cracking your knuckles

Stop Cracking Your Knuckles is an audio hypnosis session designed to help you help you escape the compulsion to crack your joints. As you listen to this gentle, permissive hypnosis session, you will be transported into a state of deliciously deep relaxation, where you can make changes effortlessly and almost without noticing.

The powerful hypnotic suggestions in Stop Cracking Your Knuckles, based on the latest understanding of the psychological basis of pattern formation and modification, will give you all the tools you need to make significant changes in your habits. For yourself.

Download Stop Cracking Your Knuckles now and give your hands a rest. You can listen on your computer or device or via our free app which you can access when you have completed your purchase.

Stop Cracking Your Knuckles has been purchased by 115 customers.