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Does Cracking Knuckles Cause Arthritis?

Close up of two hands cracking knuckles

Is Cracking Your Knuckles Bad for You & How to Stop It

Have you ever been told by a family member, teacher, or friend that cracking your knuckles was going to give you arthritis? About 54 percent of people crack their knuckles, but the bad habit is not bad for you, and it is unlikely to cause chronic joint pain. Still, repeated knuckle cracking can be annoying to those nearby and may worsen arthritis symptoms.

Doctor Hoy’s® natural topicals help relieve joint pain from cracking your knuckles or other joints in your body such as your knees, back, or neck. They can also help improve feelings of stiffness that may create the desire. By learning more about knuckle cracking and what you should do if you feel pain, you can stop the bad habit and do more for your joint health.

Person holding Doctor Hoy’s natural pain relief gel tube

Why do people crack their knuckles?

The main reason people crack their knuckles is because they believe it feels good and gives them more mobility in their joints. When a person cracks their knuckles, the nerve endings where the tendons join those muscles and joints are stimulated. There is thought to be a release of pressure in the joints and the surrounding muscles relax.

This release of tension and better range of motion is why cracking knuckles becomes a habit and why you might think your knuckles hurt if you don’t crack them.

Other reasons why people might crack their knuckles repeatedly are:

  • They like the sound knuckle cracking makes.
  • They crack their knuckles to occupy their hands when anxious.
  • They use the action to relieve stress and experience physical release.
  • They’ve already made it into a habit and aren’t sure when it started.

Woman appears anxious while cracking knuckles

What happens when you crack your knuckles?

People crack their knuckles by manipulating the finger joints, either bending them backward or forward, turning them sideways, or pulling or pushing on the knuckles. This produces an audible crack or pop. Researchers think this noise occurs for a few reasons.

Person popping their knuckles

What causes the noise when you crack a joint?

Synovial Fluid Bubbles Popping

Synovial fluid surrounds and lubricates the joints in your body. This fluid contains oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide gases. When the bones of these joints are pulled apart, popular belief is that the negative pressure in the joint releases these gases as bubble(s).

Knuckle cracking creates a vacuum, increasing pressure suddenly and popping the bubbles, which produces a cracking or popping noise. This theory also explains why you cannot crack the same knuckle again until the gases return to the synovial fluid.

Tendons Snapping into Place

Tendons around a joint will sometimes glide off path when a joint moves or shifts. As the tendons return to their original position, you might hear them “snap.” These sounds can also happen when tight ligaments, muscles or tendons move over a bony structure. This is more common as you get older and might be why you hear cracking sounds in your ankles or back.

Rough Joints from Arthritis

Cartilage cushions your joints and helps support your weight during physical activities like running or stretching. When this cartilage breaks down or becomes inflamed or lost, it is known as osteoarthritis. The loss of cartilage and roughness of the surface of the joint can make sounds during movement.

This condition also comes with joint pain, swelling and stiffness. Doctor Hoy’s Natural Pain Relief Gel is FDA-approved as a topical for arthritis that can relieve joint pain. For a lotion-like application, use Arnica Boost Recovery Cream to help reduce stiffness and inflammation from arthritis. Doctor Hoy’s topicals are safe for repeated use and they’re natural, meaning no unwanted side effects.

Person depositing natural pain relief gel onto hand

Joint Instability

Some popping sounds happen because the affected joint is unstable or loose. It might catch or pause as you move and eventually let go, emitting a crack or pop. If you also feel pain, it could mean joint or cartilage and should require a visit to your doctor.

Does cracking knuckles cause arthritis?

Several studies found that cracking your knuckles will not likely cause arthritis. In fact, your risk of developing osteoarthritis appears to be the same whether you’re a habitual knuckle cracker or not. Cracking your knuckles can still have side effects and may worsen symptoms if you already have arthritis.

Repeated knuckle cracking may cause temporary soreness of the affected joint. It can also wear down the soft tissues and protective cushioning of the joints, causing swelling and a weakened grip. Cracking your knuckles should not be painful, but it could indicate underlying issues such as an injury.

People with arthritis who crack their knuckles or other joints could add to their pain, negatively affecting already damaged joints. If you have discomfort in your joints along with decreased mobility and cracking sounds, talk to your healthcare provider as this could be either an injury or a sign of arthritis.

Person with arthritis holding hand with swollen joints

How to Stop Cracking Your Knuckles

Like any habit, breaking the practice of knuckle cracking can be difficult. It involves mostly lifestyle changes around how you deal with stress along with conscious thoughts. Ways to stop cracking your knuckles include:

  • Gently stretching your muscles, tendons, and joints to increase your flexibility.
  • Thinking about why you do it and what causes it, such as stress from a poor work-life balance.
  • Finding other ways to relieve stress like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
  • Keeping your hands busy with something else like a stress ball, worry stone, or fidget toy.
  • Making yourself aware when you do it and consciously stopping yourself.

Along with the above tips, using a topical like Arnica Boost with natural Arnica Montana can help make your joints feel less stiff or inflamed and may mitigate the need to crack your knuckles.

Person applying arnica cream to hands

Doctor Hoy’s Soothes Joint Pain & Inflammation

Whether you need relief from joint pain, sore muscles, or hand stiffness, Doctor Hoy’s provides deep pain relief. Our natural pain relief gel warms and prepares your muscles before activity to soothe painful joints so you can be more active while arnica cream helps reduce inflammation and stiffness for improved function. Discover osteoarthritis pain relief and stop cracking your knuckles or joints because of stiffness with Doctor Hoy’s.


deWeber, K., Olszewski, M., & Ortolano, R. (2011). Knuckle Cracking and Hand Osteoarthritis. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 24(2), 169–174.

Will Joint Cracking Cause Osteoarthritis? (2007) WebMD.

Nichols, H. (2021, May 5) Cracking the knuckles and other joints: Does it cause arthritis? Medical News Today.

Does cracking knuckles cause arthritis? (2020, July 6). Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Health.

What causes the noise when you crack a joint? (2019, December 16). Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

Knuesel, O., Weber, M., & Suter, A. (2002). Arnica montana gel in osteoarthritis of the knee: An open, multicenter clinical trial. Advances in Therapy, 19(5), 209–218.

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