The Real Reason You're Addicted to Cracking Your Knuckles

“Doesn’t that hurt?” “It will give you arthritis!” “That’s the most bone-chilling sound in the world.”

I’ve heard it all. And I know, my knuckle-cracking habit isn’t exactly flattering. But I can’t help it. I’ve been popping my fingers, back, neck, and other appendages for years. I don’t even remember when I first started. Elementary school? By now, cracking my knuckles is as deeply embedded in my lifestyle as applying lip balm when my pucker feels dry or eating when I’m hungry. (I even force my boyfriend to crack my back for me sometimes—a textbook case of codependence.)

Sure, I’ve gone through sober periods where I’ve put my habit on hold. But mostly, cracking my knuckles feels as necessary as scratching a needling, torturous itch. (Cue sarcastic jokes about being addicted to “crack.”)

That said, I don’t want to be the gross girl who pops her knuckles all day at work. Even I’ll admit that the noise is disturbingly loud for such a small action. Plus, I’m sick of hearing people tell me I’m damaging my joints. Cracking my knuckles isn’t actually harming me, right? Actually, while we’re asking questions, what is knuckle cracking, anyway? 

To find out once and for all, I spoke to San Diego–based chiropractor Ryan Curda, D.C., as well as New York City–based physical therapist Scott Weiss, D.P.T.

For medically supported answers to all the questions you’ve ever had about cracking your knuckles, keep reading.

Interested in more fascinating medical knowledge? Check out this story on how coffee affects your skin, according to science.

This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.