Written by Laura Carter - Practitioner of Hand Therapy
Some of the common questions I get asked as a Hand Therapist are:
“Is it bad if I crack my fingers?!”
“Why do my fingers pop when I crack them?”
“Am I going to give myself arthritis or do damage by cracking my fingers so much?”
There is no denying that our fingers are delicate structures. They can quite easily run into injury and harm when we exert too much force through them or move them in compromising positions. So it’s no wonder we are so worried we are going to do damage when we deliberately crank them at funny angles, all to chase that satisfying (or not so satisfying) ‘pop’.
In this blog, we shed some light on the truth behind finger cracking and show you that, in most cases, it’s not AS doom and gloom as you might think!
So first thing’s first - what causes our finger joints to ‘pop’?
The answer comes back to some simple chemistry and physiology.
All joints, including those in our fingers, are surrounded by a capsule filled with a watery liquid called synovial fluid.
This fluid is made up of a bunch of dissolved gasses which float around happily without disruption. When a joint is stretched or bent however, the space within the capsule increases.
The resulting decrease in pressure causes the dissolved gas particles to collide and form a bubble, which then instantly - and often quite audibly - pops!
In most instances, the gas can take up to 20 minutes to slowly reabsorb back into the synovial fluid. This period of time is called the ‘refactory period’ and is the reason we can’t crack the same joint over and over in a short time span.
So now we know what causes a joint to crack, the next questions is - is it bad for us?
The good news is, evidence tells us that cracking your knuckles isn’t a case of malaligning bones, crunching joints or causing early arthritis.
Cracking your knuckles actually gives the joints a stretch to relieve pressure build up, similar to how taking a big stretch after a long day gives us that ‘ahhhhh’ feeling.
Even longer term studies into the art of finger cracking show that the popping experienced is fairly innocuous.
In saying this, our joints can make a whole variety of strange and perplexing sounds.
Some of these, like those described above, may be normal and some of them may not be.
For this reason, it is hard to give a blanket answer to say that ALL popping and cracking of joints is harmless.
As a general rule, if your cracks and pops do not cause or co-exist with any other symptoms, its safe to say they’re probably fine.
However, if you do experience ‘popping’ or ‘clicking’ in joints that cause you pain, or if you are in doubt, make sure to get it checked out by your Hand Therapist!