Mayo Clinic Minute: A hand surgeon's advice on knuckle cracking
How to Stop Cracking Your Knuckles
Knuckle cracking is a common habit which anyone can develop. Even though you may enjoy the sensation it brings, it can drive the people around you crazy and lead to some unwanted side effects down the line. Although cracking your knuckles doesn't cause arthritis (as is sometimes claimed), one study found that it can lead to other problems such as joint swelling and loss of hand strength, or could even be a sign of more serious nervous disorders, depending on the severity and length of the habit.
While the verdict is still out in relation to whether or not cracking your knuckles is harmful, many people may want to stop because their friends or loved ones find it annoying, or they simply want to kick what can become a long-term habit.
Understanding Knuckle Cracking
Understand what causes the cracking sound.When you crack your knuckles, you are manipulating certain joints in the body in a manner that promotes the release of gas (currently thought to be primarily nitrogen) from synovial fluid. Synovial fluid exists within synovial joints, and its function is to reduce friction between cartilage. When a knuckle is cracked, the gases dissolved within the synovial fluid are compressed and form of a bubble. This bubble then bursts, making that familiar popping sound as it does so.
- It can take this released gas up to 30 minutes to dissolve back into the synovial fluid - that's why you usually have to wait a while before you can pop the knuckle again.
- Cracking your knuckles stimulates the nerve ending and stretches out the joint, which is why it feels so good.
Be aware of the possible dangers of knuckle cracking.Although several studies have shown that knuckle cracking does not lead to arthritis, and although many will suffer no consequences after a lifetime engaging in the habit, some studies have suggested that people who crack their knuckles for long periods of time are at risk of developing the following symptoms:
- Soft tissue damage to the joint capsule(s).
- Damage to the hand's ligaments, the soft tissues that connect our bones.
Part 1 Quiz
Why does cracking your knuckles feel good?
Kicking the Habit
Understand behavioral therapy.No matter how much you crack your knuckles, if you want to stop, then behavioral therapy techniques are the way to go.
- In other words, cracking your knuckles is a behavior, so it is possible to use behavioral techniques to change your behavior. Simplifying a little, there are two basic forms of behavioral therapy: positive and negative.
- Positive behavioral therapy includes techniques like reward systems: Set goals and give yourself (or your loved one) a reward for meeting those goals.
- Negative techniques include minor punishments or other reminders to make the person aware of their habit, so they can stop. There are as many kinds of these techniques as there are people who would offer advice.
Keep your hands busy.Give your hands something else to do, other than knuckle cracking. Learn to twirl a pencil or a , for example.
- Aspiring magicians practice moving a coin through, over, and around the fingers of one hand without touching anything else. A pen or pencil works too.
- This exercise is truly good for anyone at any age. Developing finger strength, coordination,and manual dexterity can be fun too as you master a new skill rather than hurt yourself.
Take up a new hobby.Some kind of hobby that keeps your hands (and mind) busy is probably an excellent idea like drawing, writing, or arts and crafts.
Use the rubber band method.The single most classic behavioral method is to wrap a rubber band around your wrist.
- When you notice you are about to crack your knuckles pull back on the rubber band and release, so it snaps back onto your skin.
- The slight sting you feel may help you to break your habit, as you may eventually come to associate your knuckle cracking with pain.
Use other preventative methods.If the rubber band method doesn't appeal to you, there are several other things you can do to curb your cracking habit:
- Carry a small hand lotion around with you in your pocket or purse. When you feel the urge to pop your knuckles, get out the lotion and rub it on your hands. This will give you something to do with your hands, while also leaving them soft and moisturized!
- Have a friend put tape around your "knocking knuckles" or tape your fingertips to your palm to make a fist.
- Put socks on your hands while watching television or doing other activities that don't require the use of your hands.
- Keep a pen/pencil in your hand to prevent cracking or "strumming" your fingers.
Part 2 Quiz
How can you use a rubber band around your wrist to stop cracking your knuckles?
Addressing Deeper Issues
Become aware of your habit.Since knuckle cracking is often a nervous habit, it is often done "automatically." Most of the time people are not even aware they are cracking their knuckles until somebody tells them.
- However, if you wish to stop your knuckle cracking habit, it is important to become more aware of when you do it.
- It may be helpful to rope in a friend or family member to provide a gentle reminder whenever you crack. Knuckle cracking is generally a lot more obvious to outside observers than it is to the crackers themselves.
Discover the source of the anxiety.Knuckle cracking may be classified as a nervous habit. Since a nervous habit is in response to stress or anxiety, identifying the source of the stress is the first step in dealing with the habit.
- Stress can be specific, like worrying about an upcoming test, or it can be general, like relationships with parents and peers, social acceptance, or any of many other factors.
- Try keeping a small notebook on you at all times, and make a note each time you crack your knuckles. This will help you to notice any patterns in your knuckle cracking behaviors and help you to identify your triggers.
Avoid nagging.If you are a knuckle cracker or care for someone who cracks their knuckles, be aware that nagging or complaining about the habit is more likely to make it worse than make it go away.
- Nagging only leads to more stress, which increases the nervous reaction to that stress.
- Therefore gentle reminders will be much more helpful and effective than constant nagging.
Maintain a support system.Although nagging or increasing stress is unlikely to help, there are many ways that friends and family can help the knuckle popper. A simple touch on the arm when somebody notices unconscious habits can go a long way to understanding and dealing with the problem.
Give it time.Understand that most knuckle cracking is harmless and will probably go away with time. If the cracking does not coincide with other changes in behavior, patience is probably the best antidote.
Consider getting professional help.Understand that prolonged excessive or any kind of habit that has a negative effect on the normal course of life is always a problem, or "issue," and should be faced.
- Truly excessive knuckle cracking, especially accompanied by the cracking of other joints in the body, can be an early sign of more serious anxiety disorders.
- If you believe your knuckle cracking may be a symptom of a more serious disorder, you should consider seeing a therapist.
Part 3 Quiz
How can you determine the root of your knuckle-cracking problem?
QuestionIs there a way to make the swollen fingers go away?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerAvoid cracking your knuckles, cut back on the salty foods, and drink plenty of water. Too much sodium in your diet can lead to excessive water retention, which can make your fingers appear swollen.Thanks!
QuestionWhat is the worst outcome of cracking my knuckles? Will it affect my future?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe worst outcome of knuckle cracking is swelling of the tissue. Yes, it may affect your future health because you might hurt your fingers and have pain if you continue.Thanks!
QuestionWill my knuckles get damaged from too much cracking?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThere is some evidence that many years of habitual knuckle cracking may reduce grip strength and lead to hand swelling. There is no evidence of any association with serious health conditions like arthritis.Thanks!
QuestionHow come my fingers get sore from cracking my knuckles?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerWhen you crack your knuckles, you are stretching the joint in a way that it was not specifically designed to go. If you don't have flexible fingers, it may be straining your tendons, causing them to be sore.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I stop being addicted to cracking my knuckles?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTry to do something else with your hands, such as spinning a pencil through your fingers.Thanks!
QuestionWhat are discipline ideas that can help me stop cracking my knuckles?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerEach time you crack your knuckles, put a quarter in a jar. Once the jar is full, donate all the money to charity.Thanks!
QuestionWill the elastic band work?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends. If you are a person who will react to punishment, yes. If you have found that you only react to rewards, carry small sweets around or something, and have one every hour you don't crack your knuckles.Thanks!
QuestionAre there any benefits to cracking my knuckles?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNo, there isn't any benefit. While you are cracking your knuckles, what you are doing is wasting your synovial fluid which is the responsible for you not feel pain when you are cracking your knuckles. In time, this synovial fluid will go, so your fingers will hurt when cracked.Thanks!
QuestionDo my knuckles get bigger if I crack them?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNo, there is no evidence that knuckle cracking causes joints to enlarge.Thanks!
QuestionHow long will it take for anything bad to happen?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt can take a couple of years to see consequences.Thanks!
Will being double jointed affect my fingers and knuckles?
If I have double jointed fingers, will I still be affected by cracking my knuckles?
Why do my fingers hurt if I don't crack them?
To stop cracking your knuckles, give your fingers something else to do, like twirling a pencil or rolling a coin. Additionally, try taking up a new hobby that keeps your hands busy, like drawing or arts and crafts. To try a behavioral therapy, wear a rubber band around your wrist. When you go to crack your knuckles, pull and release the rubber band so it snaps back on your wrist, making you associate knuckle cracking with pain.
- There are vast differences between human beings when it comes to being able to crack or pop bone joints. Some people cannot do it at all, while in others increased space between the joints makes it easier. Some individuals can "crack" many of the joints in their body. This can lead to very uncomfortable movements. Turning your head, retracting you fingers, etc. Make sure to follow these steps in order to terminate this bad habit.
- Talking to a chiropractor would also help.
- Don't expect immediate results. It can take a long time to change behavior. Make sure you just wean yourself off gradually.
- Cracking your knuckles can make your hands feel looser.
- Be sure to remain patient as it takes time to break a habit.
- Be persistent. As you work towards stopping, you may slip up along the way. Be kind to yourself if this happens. Bumps in the road are normal. What is important is to get back on the wagon and keep traveling down the road. Just because you hit a bump doesn't mean you have a flat tire, even if you hit the bump hard.
- If it helps you, buy a stress ball or something you can squeeze when you feel like cracking your knuckles. This can give you the satisfaction feeling without actually cracking your knuckles.
- Some good things to do to keep your hands occupied include using silly putty/a stress ball, drawing or writing. Keep in mind that some things may work amazingly for some people, but for others, it may worsen their habit.
- Stay easygoing. stay out of high stress situations, and do activities that involve your hands like writing biking or phone playing.
- Make a stress ball or buy a fidget cube or spinner that should keep you distracted.
- Try not to think about your fingers.
- Do arts and crafts. Arts and crafts are a great thing to do as you can be creative, while doing something to pass the time, and to occupy your hands.
- It should be noted that the study on the problem with knuckle cracking has been criticized for not accounting potential alternative explanations for the advent of these problems. For example, some cannot crack their knuckles. The factors that allow people to do so, which potentially includes ligament laxity, may instead contribute to impaired hand functioning and/or swelling as opposed to the "cracking" action itself.
Sources and Citations
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Video: How To Stop Cracking Your Knuckles-Breaking The Bad Habit
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