Is Cracking (Popping) Your Knuckles Good or Bad? Arthritis Answers

8 minute read

Everyone is guilty of cracking their knuckles at least once or twice. For some, it may even be a daily occurrence. And it’s not just your knuckles. When your neck or back feels stiff, sometimes giving your joints a good crack feels like a great way to get quick relief.

But for as long as people have been cracking their knuckles, there have been others who are certain this habit is bad for you. So what’s the truth? Is cracking your knuckles an innocent way to relieve some of the stiffness in your bones, or is it a harmful bad habit to avoid? Here’s what you need to know.

The Truth About Cracking Your Knuckles

Cracking joints can be divided into three categories. The first is the accidental cracking or popping joints you hear when you move around normally. The second is cracking the knuckles in your hand. And the third category is when you intentionally crack other parts of your body, like your neck and back.

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Unintentional Cracking Joints

If you hear your joints crack or pop, especially in the morning as you stretch, there’s some good news—you have nothing to worry about. Typically these sounds are the result of friction between bones and joints rubbing together.

This is natural, especially after you’ve been sleeping and lying still for a long time. When you shift your bones from being in one position for a long time to another position, it can often cause the cracking and popping sound.

Cracking Your Knuckles

The sound of your knuckles popping is actually nitrogen, believe it or not. Hiding in your joints, tucked away in the cracks and crevices are small amounts of nitrogen.

When you crack your joints, the gas is released rapidly, which causes the popping sound. This is why you can’t pop your knuckles with slow movements; it requires a quick motion to release the nitrogen from your joints.

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Despite the hand-wringing from folks worried about things like reduced grip strength, recent evidence has shown that cracking your knuckles has negligible negative effects.

However, if you regularly experience pain when you crack your knuckles, or any other joint, you should ask your physician about it. But as long as you’re not feeling pain or discomfort, you should be okay.

Cracking Your Back, Neck, and Other Areas

If you regularly crack your neck or your back, this is where you may actually be doing some harm to yourself. As mentioned earlier, if you’re experiencing cracking or popping in these areas naturally, then you have nothing to worry about.

But if you’re intentionally cracking these parts of your body because you feel pain or stiffness and you’re looking for some quick relief, you might want to reconsider. Cracking your neck too aggressively puts you at risk for overstretching your ligaments or misaligning certain bones in your back.

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If you struggle with back pain regularly, your best bet is to seek professional help from your doctor. Even doing yoga or other gentle stretches can help with this discomfort, and you’ll be making more permanent gains than if you just give it a quick crack.

So now you know a little bit more about the nature of cracking your joints. But if you’re suffering from joint pain, the knowledge alone might not give you the relief you’re looking for.

To help get you started on your path to better joint health, here are a few tips you should keep in mind when thinking about your joints:

Stretch It Out

You already know that doing some yoga stretches can do wonders for your joints. But it doesn’t have to be yoga.

You can do all kinds of different stretches that can help keep your muscles flexible and your joints loose. Of course, it’s best to have a trained professional show you how to do any new stretch for the first time, so you don’t accidentally injure yourself or make the issue worse.

Consider Your Posture

Bad posture has been linked to poor joint health, and it’s easy to see why. When you’re slouching all day, or even just walking with your head held low, it can put a huge strain on your neck, back, and other joints.

Try to be aware of your posture throughout the day, whether you’re sitting at your desk or going for a walk outside.

And if your job requires you to do heavy lifting or other strenuous activity, your posture is even more important. Keep your back straight as much as possible, so you don’t do any unintended damage to those sensitive joints.

Don’t Stress

It may be easier said than done, but keeping your stress levels low is a good way to make life easy on your joints. Mental stress and anxiety have been linked to poor joint health, so try to avoid stressful activities and situations when you can.

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Learning a breathing routine that helps you through those moments could be helpful in this area.

Avoid Exercises That Strain Your Neck

If you go to the gym regularly, then you’re doing your overall health a huge favor. But it’s important not to strain yourself by over-training or doing exercises that you’re not comfortable with.

If you notice a certain exercise is putting unnecessary strain on your neck, back, or other sensitive area, stop doing that exercise and find another routine you can try.

Proper Nutrition

There are certain foods that have been shown to fight inflammation, like ginger, cherries, green tea, and more. These foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and powerful compounds that help regulate joint health. So if you feel like your joints are stiff all the time, adding some of these foods to your diet could help.

The Bottom Line

Now you know that cracking your knuckles isn’t as bad as some people claim. Still, you want to go easy on your joints and bones in more sensitive places like your neck. Be sure to check with your physician if you notice any chronic discomfort.

If you have a habit of cracking your knuckles, you can rest easy. Just don’t let it spread to the rest of your body!

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