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Fact of the Day
Joints are held together by ligaments because there is a gap between the sections of bone. In this gap is synovial fluid which serves to keep things lubricated and nourished. Oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide are also present in this join fluid. When one bends a joint, the fluid-filled gap stretches and the gases are released from the fluid. When the knuckle actually produces a cracking sound, the noise is made by the rapid release of gas from the synovial fluid.
After this, the ligaments snap back into place and actually create a second noise. This is also the noise heard if there is "cracking" at the hip or knee.
In terms of arthritis, doctors are on the fence. Some studies show no sign of arthritis after 35 years of knuckle cracking while others warn of other permanent pains that may result that just may not be considered arthritis.
!, Alice. "Go Ask Alice!: Knuckle cracking ." Go Ask Alice! - Columbia University's Health Q&A Internet Service. 27 Sep. 1996. 18 Jan. 2009 .
Brodeur, Raymond. "What makes the sound when we crack our knuckles?." Science News, Articles and Information | Scientific American. 26 Oct. 2001. 18 Jan. 2009 .
"What causes the noise when you crack a joint? (Everyday Mysteries: Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress)." Library of Congress Home. 1 Mar. 2007. 18 Jan. 2009 .