Should I Stop Cracking My Knuckles & Back?   

Should I Stop Cracking My Knuckles & Back?

Hand cracking knuckles
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


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