A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

woman cracking knuckles

Knuckle Cracking and Other Annoying Habits

My mom was visiting us this weekend. When she heard one of her grandkids cracking their knuckles, she said, “Don’t do that – it’ll cause arthritis!” My child responded confidently – “No, it won’t!”

Then they both looked at me to settle the mini-dispute. I explained that while cracking knuckles makes a sound (caused by a change in bubbles of gas in the synovial fluid in joint spaces) – as irritating to my ears as nails on a chalkboard – it’s not linked to developing arthritis. I wish it were, so everyone would stop making that awful noise!

Most kids have some habits like nail biting, lip licking or hair twirling, and parents often ask me for help getting rid of them (the habits, not the kids!). In general, it helps to:

  • Ignore the habit. That’s right – ignoring a habit will be the quickest path to it disappearing! You can actually prolong habits and make them more severe by constantly calling attention to them. This can increase feelings of stress and make the child continue the habit as a self-soothing behavior. It’s more helpful to occasionally talk directly with your child about their habit. Quietly explain why you want them to stop. You might say that biting nails can lead to skin infections and give them germs that can cause colds or other illnesses. Chewing on shirts ruins the shirt. Licking lips makes them dry and chapped. Then after you talk, most of the time say nothing more.
  • Try positive praise. To help your child quit a habit, try using positivity. Let them know you have faith in them – they’ll outgrow this and eventually stop. When you notice they haven’t done the habit for a while, praise them! Star charts or stickers can work wonders for young kids.

Or you could do what I do – practically yell, “STOP that noise!” whenever they start up the knuckle cracking. Which works really well … to make my kids crack up with giggles and continue cracking their knuckles!

Find more resources for parents:
My Doctor Online

Disclaimer: If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.