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Knuckle cracking: Annoying and harmful, or just annoying?

October 27, 2020

About the Author

photo of Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School. … See Full Bio
View all posts by Robert H. Shmerling, MD


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June 23, 2018

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.

Dr. David P. Mangiameli
May 14, 2018

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

Miriam S. Wetzel
May 14, 2018

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.

Kristofer Young, DC
May 14, 2018

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”.

Sara Stoxen
May 14, 2018

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!

leslie w.
May 14, 2018

Thank you for my morning laugh. 🙂

leslie w.
May 14, 2018

Thank you! I’ve ALWAYS wondered about this and now I can stop nagging my daughter.

May 14, 2018

I am 74 years young and I have cracked my knuckles since I first discovered they would crack….about 6 years old….and I have no problems from this cracking action. I have more of a concern of me cracking up mentally!!!!

May 14, 2018

No pun intended, of course!!!

Joseph C. Shapiro
May 14, 2018

Cracking knuckles is (not) what it’s cracked up to be !

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