Mercy's Dr. John Paul-Rue Provides Insights Regarding Cracking Your Knuckles and Joints

January 5, 2018
Orthopedics and Joint Replacement at Mercy - Baltimore, MD

Is it Safe to Crack Your Knuckles and Other Joints?


In a response to a query from, Mercy orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist John-Paul Rue, M.D., provided insights regarding what can occur when “cracking” one’s joints. Dr. Rue is a fellowship-trained, board certified orthopedic sports medicine surgeon specializing in the prevention and treatment of injuries related to sports and exercise, including complex knee and shoulder reconstructions.

What are some of the things that can happen to your joints, if you crack them. (This will include cracking your back, neck, etc.) Please explain why it happens.

Other than possibly distracting those around you or causing your mother to cringe, cracking your knuckles or other joints in your body does not appear to be harmful. A study (1) performed at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland reported that people who habitually cracked their knuckles did not have more arthritis in their hands compared to people who did not crack their knuckles.

Is it okay to crack your joints occasionally? If so, is there a safe way to do it? If not, why is that?

 “Cracking and popping” in joints is different from creaking joints.

Cracking and popping (“knuckle cracking”) is not well understood. One theory is that the noise is made from the popping of gas bubbles, like carbon dioxide or nitrogen, which may form in a joint due to the vacuum created by joints extending or pulling. Another theory is that the sudden creation of a cavity, or new space, within the joint actually makes the sound in the joint. Either way, knuckle cracking, popping or snapping itself does not appear to be either harmful to the joint, or a marker of any specific disease or condition.

On the other hand, joints that “creak” “squeak” or “grind” may represent a different problem. Together, these words are often described as “crepitus,” which may be a sign of degenerative changes, such as osteoarthritis, in a joint. With this condition, as joints wear out, the normal smooth cartilage may become thinner or irregular.  As these worn out joint surfaces roll or glide across each other, the joint may make noise as the rough surfaces move past each other.   

Painless joint noises like popping joints or cracking knuckles do not by themselves require any specific evaluation or treatment. If you have pain or swelling associated with creaking, squeaking or grinding of your joints, or if you have a feeling that the joint is getting “stuck” or locked in a certain position, you should seek a medical opinion.

--John-Paul Rue, M.D.


Dan Collins - Senior Director of Media Relations at Mercy Medical Center

Dan Collins, Senior Director of Media Relations

Email: Office: 410-332-9714 Cell: 410-375-7342

About Mercy

Founded in 1874 in downtown Baltimore by the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy Medical Center is a 183-licensed bed acute care university-affiliated teaching hospital. Mercy has been recognized as a top Maryland hospital by U.S. News & World Report; a Top 100 hospital for Women’s Health & Orthopedics by Healthgrades; is currently A-rated for Hospital Safety (Leapfrog Group), and is recognized by the American Nurses Credentialing Center as a Magnet Hospital. Mercy Medical Center is part of Mercy Health Services (MHS), the parent of Mercy’s primary care and specialty care physician enterprise, known as Mercy Personal Physicians, which employs more than 200 providers with locations in Baltimore, Lutherville, Overlea, Glen Burnie, Columbia and Reisterstown. For more information about Mercy, visit, MDMercyMedia on FacebookTwitter, or call 1-800-MD-Mercy.

News and Events