• By Jeff Olsen

Mayo Clinic Minute: A hand surgeon’s advice about knuckle cracking

June 27, 2017

Real deal or wives’ tale: Knuckle cracking can cause harm, including arthritis? A Mayo Clinic hand surgeon’s answer may surprise you.

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video pkg (0:59) is in the downloads. Read the script.

Snap, crack, pop. Nearly half of us crack our knuckles, and some do it a lot.

"There's a term called habitual knuckle crackers," says Dr. Sanj Kakar, a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon. "They crack, on average, more than five times a day.”

Dr. Kakar explains that tribonucleation is the process of creating bubbles within the synovial fluid in our finger joints. The sound we call cracking is actually those bubbles bursting.

"You’re breaking those bubbles up – just like bubble wrap," Dr. Kakar explains. "You’re pressing them, and then the bubbles are bursting."

Studies show knuckle crackers have the same function, grip strength and range of motion as those who don’t crack their knuckles, although cartilage can become thicker in people who burst their own bubbles. And what would Dr. Kakar say to a person with this snappy habit?

"I would ask them what do their friends and family say," he says, smiling. "If they find it's annoying, then stop. But, otherwise, if it’s causing no pain to them, really, I don’t think they’re doing any harm. I occasionally do it myself, and I’m a hand surgeon."

Read more about joint pain.

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