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Men, women, and even children sometimes have funny habits that can become annoying or even unhealthy. One of these is knuckle cracking, which involves 'popping' the joints between the small bones of the fingers and the longer bones of the palms. People who crack their knuckles may pull their fingers until they hear a cracking sound, or bend the fingers backwards or forward into a tight fist, until a popping sound is heard. The cracking sound and the feeling of looser joints make them feel some kind of satisfaction, until the next time they can do it again, which may take another few minutes.

Surveys show that up to 50% of the population love to crack their knuckles, but it is more common among men. Why do they do it? It may be a nervous habit for some, but for others it is simply relaxing. Although it may just be a form of relief to some people, it may be an addicting habit to others who have some form of psychological issues. Some people are concerned about others developing problems with their joints, such as arthritis, but others are merely annoyed by the popping sounds knuckle crackers repeatedly produce.

What Happens When You Crack your Knuckles

The joints making up the knuckles are covered by a synovial capsule, which contain a space and some fluid that acts as a lubricant between bone surfaces. Gases are dissolved in this synovial fluid, and when the capsule is stretched during knuckle cracking, the pressure inside the joint creates a vacuum, which releases the dissolved gases. The "bubble" created bursts and produces the "cracking" or "popping" sound. These gases are dissolved again in the synovial fluid, but it will take a while before you can create another popping sound.

Experts have found that although the audible effects of knuckle-cracking are sometimes hard to ignore, these do not result from any cracking or injury to any part of the joint (bones or cartilages).

Therefore, knuckle-cracking does not necessarily lead to damage that may result in arthritis.

Arthritis is a condition that results from damage and chronic inflammation in the joint, leading to pain and deformity. Studies involving knuckle crackers have not found any evidence that the habit leads to arthritis. Furthermore, no evidence has been found to conclude that arthritis in the hand is worsened by knuckle-cracking. However, some reports show that some people accidentally sprain their fingers, while others may experience discomfort or pain. Habitual knuckle-crackers may, however, develop a weaker grip or knuckle pads on the skin.

How to Stop the Habit

Knuckle-cracking may be a symptom of nervousness or stress. Other than being an annoying habit, it does not harm your health. However, people who want to get rid of the addicting behavior can try various means to change this behavior.

One way is to do a positive approach to behavior modification, which involves a reward system. Try to record the number of times you crack your knuckles in a day and consciously try to avoid it. Count your successes and give yourself a simple "reward" every time you catch yourself avoiding the action.

Another way is to do a negative form of behavior modification, which involves a "punishment" every time you are not able to resist the behavior. For example, wear a rubber band around your wrist, then pull and release it to flick your skin whenever you crack your knuckles.

You can also try behavior substitution, by doing some other competing behavior whenever you feel an urge to crack your joints. You can try twirling a pencil or coin between your fingers or fanning out the fingers instead of bending them. You can also try wearing socks over the hands or rubbing a hand lotion instead of cracking your joints.

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