Should I Stop Cracking My Knuckles & Back?

Hand cracking knuckles

July 06, 2022

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Brian Katt, M.D.
Wylie Lopez, M.D.

Cracking your fingers and back after a long day feels good, doesn't it? But what's behind all the popping? Should we stop doing it? Our expert breaks it down.

Cracking your knuckles or back can be relatively harmless, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to any benefits either. If you have a pre-existing  joint problem, it's recommended not to crack your joints as it may aggravate underlying conditions. Otherwise, if you do not have any problems, it’s relatively harmless.

What causes the “pop” noise?

Our joints naturally accumulate nitrogen bubbles over time, which get built up in the spaces of our joints. So when you crack your knuckles or back, these nitrogen bubbles escape from the built-up spaces, causing the “pop” noise. 

Why do people like cracking their joints?

Cracking your joints has nothing to do with joints being put back into place, it’s more psychological. “The Placebo effect may be involved when people crack their joints,” says Wylie Lopez, M.D., an orthopedic spine surgeon at Hackensack Meridian Health. “While people may enjoy the feeling, it’s actually doing nothing!”

Cracking your knuckles in particular can be linked to nervousness and anxiety in some people. “Just like some people bite their nails, they also might crack their knuckles to temporarily ease nervousness or anxiety,” says Brian Katt, M.D., hand surgeon at Hackensack Meridian Health.

Is there a correct way to crack your joints? 

“There is no correct way of cracking your knuckles, but don’t force the crack and stop if you feel any pain or discomfort,” says Dr. Katt. 

Cracking your back is a little different than cracking your knuckles. The best way to crack your back is by using a foam roller. “Rolling on a foam roller is a good way to massage your back, while also “cracking” your back,” says  Dr. Lopez. “It shouldn’t be a sudden jerky force to your neck or back, this can cause injuries to nearby structures or exacerbate underlying issues.”

Who may be at risk?

While cracking your joints is relatively safe, there are some who are at more risk. Our experts suggest anyone with arthritis or pre-existing joint conditions should not be cracking their joints as it may aggravate their symptoms and lead to serious health problems.  

When should you stop cracking your joints?

You should stop cracking your joints if you feel any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain or discomfort 
  • Numbness
  • Muscle pain

If you suffer from pain and feel you need to crack your joints to relieve pain, especially in your back and neck, then it's best to see a professional. Cracking your own knuckles is relatively safe but you could cause serious damage if you crack your neck or back and have pre-existing medical conditions. 

Next Steps & Resources:


The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care

Share

Newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest health tips from our expert clinicians delivered weekly to your inbox.

Do Topical Patches Work for Back Pain?

About 1 in 4 Americans have experienced lower back pain during the past 3 months. If you’re seeking pain relief but you don’t want to take oral medication, there are other options to consider, like topical patches.

Hand Surgery Gets a Thumbs-Up

Hunterdon County bus driver conquers arthritis and returns to work.

Are Cortisone Shots Bad for You?

Many people have had cortisone shots to relieve pain and improve function for sports injuries like tendonitis and meniscus tears, as well as chronic conditions like arthritis, bursitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. 

Are All Of My Devices Giving Me Wrist Pain?

Does all that texting, typing, swiping and scrolling hurt your hands and wrists? Here’s how you can treat pain from too much screen time.

X
We use cookies to improve your site experience. By using this site,
you agree to our Terms & Conditions. Also, please read our Privacy Policy.
Accept All Cookies