Many people crack their knuckles, toes, back, and especially their fingers. The snapping, popping sound can cause those within earshot to recoil.
Perhaps you have heard that cracking your fingers (or knuckles) can lead to arthritis, or that your fingers will become permanently disfigured. Maybe you were told as a child that cracking your fingers would stunt their growth.
So when you hear someone cracking their fingers or knuckles, you may admonish the person for doing irreparable damage to their joints. But is cracking your fingers and other joints really all that bad? The answer may surprise you.
What Happens When You Crack Your Fingers
Researchers have been able to put these hypotheses to bed by discovering what exactly is going on when you snap-crackle-pop your fingers and knuckles. There is actually a medical term for cracking your joints, and it’s called “articular release” – meaning you are releasing a sensation of pressure, creating relief after cracking the joint. You’re not breaking anything; nothing is detaching.
When you crack your fingers, you are stretching (or flexing) the joint past its degree of usual rotation, but not past its anatomic barrier. In other words, you need something else to push it to that point, such as using your other hand to pull back the fingers or to squeeze the knuckles.
Researchers have reported that the cracking sound is due to a sudden release of gaseous bubbles from fluid in the joint. This mixture of gas and liquid is thought to be what causes the feeling of pressure in the first place.
When the joint is cracked, the pressure is released – which leaves a feeling of relief, as well as a more comfortable range of motion. Most people don’t feel this pressure in their fingers or other joints, so they have difficulty understanding what that pressure feels like.
And because it doesn’t feel like pain, it’s difficult to describe the feeling to someone else. Suffice it to say that the pressure gives the sensation of a slight tension, and the tension is relieved when the joint is pushed or pulled, which often creates this cracking sound.
Is It Okay to Crack My Joints?
When cracking your fingers, toes, shoulders, elbows, back, or neck, the sense of relief is achieved when that tension is released. The joint feels relaxed again, which helps to alleviate stress in the body.
There is actually no evidence that cracking your fingers is harmful or can cause damage. On the contrary, some researchers have discovered a lower incidence of arthritis in people who do crack their fingers.
This continues to be studied to determine whether this is a coincidence, or whether cracking your fingers actually helps prevent arthritis from developing. That said, if you don’t feel any natural tension in your hands or joints, don’t try to crack them, because you may actually cause damage to your tendons or ligaments.
Hand Specialists in the Chesapeake Region
Cracking your fingers may bring relief, but if you are suffering from chronic pain in your fingers, wrists, elbow, or shoulder, you should consider seeing a specialist. A hand surgeon is the best person to see when it comes to diagnosing and treating conditions affecting those areas.
Our board-certified hand surgeons at Greater Chesapeake Hand to Shoulder have locations across Maryland, we are ready to help you. Call our main office number today at (410) 296-6232 to schedule a consultation with our physicians, or request an appointment online at one of our convenient locations. We look forward to serving you and helping you live well.