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Can't , at least when it comes to knuckles? Repeated knuckle cracking—or "popping"—has long been thought of as a leading contributor to joint trouble, particularly arthritis deWeber, K., Olszewski, M., and Ortolano, R. Department of Family Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD. Journal of American Board of Family Medicine. 2011 Mar-Apr;24(2):169-74.. But while the mechanisms behind it aren't perfectly clear, habitual knuckle cracking is not a significant risk factor for arthritis, though it may have several other negative side effects deWeber, K., Olszewski, M., and Ortolano, R. Department of Family Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD. Journal of American Board of Family Medicine. 2011 Mar-Apr;24(2):169-74..

STOP, POP, AND CRACK IT: WHY IT MATTERS

Though the behind knuckle cracking are still debated, that popping sound is likely not from bone-on-bone . To keep them working smoothly, most joints are surrounded by a and gases. When a joint is "cracked"—an event called —the gases are thought to escape the membrane, causing the characteristic “pop!” sound associated with knuckle cracking . Brodeur, R. Depoartment of Biomechanics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapy. 1995 Mar-Apr;18(3):155-64.. A similar sound may also result when tendons are stretched too quickly over a joint . Proptopapas, MG., and Cymet, TC. Good Samaritan Hospital, Baltimore, MD. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 2002 May;102(5):283-7..

The same workings lie behind the "cracking" associated with fingers, wrists, ankles, and—in moments of extreme boredom—necks . Brodeur, R. Depoartment of Biomechanics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapy. 1995 Mar-Apr;18(3):155-64.. Though joint cracking is normal and fairly common throughout the body, knuckle cracking in particular has long been blamed as a contributor to painful . Brodeur, R. Department of Biomechanics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapy. 1995 Mar-Apr;18(3):155-64.. But research suggests habitual knuckle cracking isn't forceful enough to cause the wear and tear associated with arthritis . deWeber, K., Olszewski, M., and Ortolano, R. Department of Family Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD. Journal of American Board of Family Medicine. 2011 Mar-Apr;24(2):169-74. . Castellanos J., and Axelrod D. Department of Internal Medicine, Mount Carmel Mercy Hospital, Detroit, Michigan. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. 1990 May; 49(5): 308–309. . Proptopapas, MG., and Cymet, TC. Good Samaritan Hospital, Baltimore, MD. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 2002 May;102(5):283-7.. In fact, knuckle cracking might actually cause temporary relief in joint pain and reduce symptoms of arthritis, hence the popularity of such crack-ups among . deWeber, K., Olszewski, M., and Ortolano, R. Department of Family Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD. Journal of American Board of Family Medicine. 2011 Mar-Apr;24(2):169-74. Proptopapas, MG., and Cymet, TC. Good Samaritan Hospital, Baltimore, MD. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 2002 May;102(5):283-7..

Not All It's Cracked Up to Be: The Answer/Debate

Is Knuckle Cracking Harmful? While knuckle cracking probably won't cause an inadvertent display of gang signs, don’t get too carried away with that snap, crackle, and pop. Though it's not tied to arthritis, research has linked habitual knuckle cracking with hand swelling and reduced grip strength, suggesting the repeated act might gradually damage soft tissue in the hand Proptopapas, MG., and Cymet, TC. Good Samaritan Hospital, Baltimore, MD. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 2002 May;102(5):283-7.. In some cases, the desire to crack could be an attempt to ease ligament stress that is already present, and in some studies habitual knuckle cracking was also associated with other potentially damaging activities like repeated manual labor Brodeur, R. Department of Biomechanics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapy. 1995 Mar-Apr;18(3):155-64..

With more research on the subject needed, knuckle cracking’s long-term effects remain a bit of a mystery. Though its connection with arthritis is slight at best, instead of cracking away as the main method to relieve joint pain, try incorporating to restore finger movement and .

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