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Knuckle cracking (or snapping of joints) is a type of joint osteopathy that generates a cracking noise. Most people possess the ability to pop a number of joints such as jaws or elbows. Going by my experiences with a colleague who works as a lab technician, the sound of cracking knuckles is annoying especially in a formal setting.
It is also speculated to have health side-effects. Speculations about its relationship to arthritis and other joint complications have for a long time dominated the field of medicine and physiology. This paper looks at the causes of the popping sound generated when cracking knuckles, the benefits as well as health complications associated with the practice in response to my lab technician’s behavior.
Why People Crack Their Knuckles
The main reason why most people cracktheir knuckles is the mobility it generates for a short period after cracking. It is also a habit people form as children when they see others crack their knuckles. The popping sound is often funny and interesting to children who carry this practice into adulthood. Though most knuckle crackers are oblivious to this, the popping sound produced during this exercise can be quite irritating to some people.
The Cause of the Cracking Sound
There are several hypotheses that explain the sound generated when cracking knuckles. Some scientists associate this sound with escaping gases. This explanation asserts that the synovial fluid that exists in human joints functions as a lubricant. The synovial fluid consists of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. When a person snaps a knuckle, he enlarges the joint capsule. This leads to a swift discharge of the gases.
The release of these gases leads to the formation of bubbles in the capsule. This is probably why one has to wait for a while before cracking the same knuckle again. When a person pops a joint, the extending of the capsule reduces the pressure forming a vacuum (Clough, 2006). This vacuum is then filled by the gases. It is this process that causes the snapping sound when the gas bubbles rupture.
Patients of arthritis often feel snapping sounds made by their joints due to the damage caused by the condition on the even cartilage. This is quite different from the voluntary snapping of joints often witnessed in knuckle cracking.
Health Implications of Knuckle Cracking
Pain, when cracking a knuckle (or any other joint), is a sufficient reason to seek medical attention. Most health professionals believe that knuckle snapping does not have any detrimental health implications (Weil, 2004). However, some studies suggest that persistent knuckle cracking can cause feebleness in a person’s grip or swelling of the person’s hands (Weil, 2004). In case the lab technician persists with the knuckle cracking habit, he may soon be unable to perform simple procedures.
Nonetheless, there is no evidence to suggest that knuckle popping triggers arthritis or any major complications. The two major types of arthritis are rheumatoid and osteoarthritis (Allan, 2011).
The causes of both categories of arthritis are not well documented and most scientific research concentrates on revealing events leading to the complications. Most cases of arthritis are genetically transmitted although aging and physical stresses also play a major role. For people already suffering from arthritis, persistent knuckle cracking can cause ligament injury.
The popping sounds made when cracking knuckles do not need to be distinctively treated since there are no major implications of knuckle cracking. Therefore, there is no reason for alarm concerning the link between the habit and arthritis. The only concern is if the cracking of knuckles or other joints is accompanied by pain or swelling.
So far, the technician and other habitual knuckle crackers have no cause for alarm. However, the technician should try to control the habit and seek medical attention if he feels any pain or notices swellings. He should also consider the mental disturbances his actions cause to other workmates.
Allan, D. B. (2011). Conquering arthritis. Phoenix, AZ: SPFP, Inc.
Clough, D. J. (2006). Arthritis. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Clinic Press.
Weil, T. A. (2004). Health and healing: The philosophy of integrative medicine and optimum health. USA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.