11/10/2016 2:16 PM AEDT | Updated 11/10/2016 7:30 PM AEDT

Is It Actually That Bad To Crack Your Knuckles?

We have good news.

Pop goes the knuckle.
Getty Images
Pop goes the knuckle.

Whether you sense great relief over the sound of a crack, or you squirm at the thought of it, we tend to have a lot to say about knuckle cracking.

But what does science tell us? And how bad is it for us, realllly?

The short answer? Not that bad (we'll get to why later).

What happens when you crack your knuckles?

This question has been a source of great debate over the decades -- with recent research providing answers.

"Synovial fluid is a substance found in the cavities of joints. Early research assumed that the gases dissolved in this synovial fluid coalesce in a bubble when the joint is extended, causing those gases to pop and make a sound," Dr Andrew Lavender, lecturer in the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University, told the Huffington Post Australia.

In 2015, a team of Canadian researchers used MRI technology to observe the actual mechanisms of knuckle cracking.

"What they found was that the gases actually coalesced together to form bubbles, and that's what creates the popping noise.

"The idea of gases exploding like a balloon made sense -- so for a long time, that was the assumption. When these guys actually looked at it, they found quite the opposite."

Does it cause any harm?

Knuckle crackers, rejoice: there is no sufficient evidence to prove that cracking causes harm to your body -- particularly osteoarthritis.

"It is difficult to get people to crack their knuckles for long enough to see the effects, but the research that has been undertaken shows that there is no sufficient link between the two," Dr Lavender said.

In 2011, a study monitored the frequency of knuckle-cracking behaviour in people, aged 50 to 89 years, via radiograph.

"What they found was, in the older aged groups of these people, the incidence of osteoarthritis was the same between people who cracked their knuckles and those who didn't," Dr Lavender said.

"So in itself, it has been shown that's there's no problem with it."

As long as there is no pain, knuckle cracking is fine. If there's any kind of discomfort associated with it, it's worth checking with your GP.Dr Andrew Lavender

Knuckle cracking becomes a problem, however, when there are underlying issues.

"If you have some kind of injury to a knuckle -- or if you have a lot of pain when you crack that knuckle -- that's an indication," he said.

"Sometimes the joint can lock and cannot be moved easily -- that's another sign that there's an underlying problem."

How much knuckle cracking is too much?

According to Dr Lavender, the line drawn is a simple one.

"You will find that once you crack a knuckle, you will be unable to crack it again for up to 15 or 20 minutes, so that will limit how much cracking you can do," he said.

"If you are able to crack your knuckle again immediately, that's probably a movement of tendon across the joint -- that's not actually a crack."

And then comes the age-old issue of bugging those around you.

"Some people find it disconcerting when others around them crack their knuckles -- more so if it is their neck or back."

The chief morbid consequence of knuckle cracking would appear to be its annoying effect on the observer.Deweber, Olszewski, Ortolano (2011 study)

That one's really up to you.

Dr Lavender's take home message?

"As long as there is no pain, knuckle cracking is fine. If there's any kind of discomfort associated with it, it's worth checking with your GP."

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