Why Your Finger Joints Click, Snap, and Pop

Common Causes and When to See a Healthcare Provider

Many people can make their fingers pop and snap, often called cracking knuckles. The sound you hear is caused by nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide bubbles moving in the fluid that surrounds your joints. Rest assured that the most common causes of finger-popping are not typically a problem.

Person cracking their knuckles

Voisin / Phanie / Getty Images

When there is no pain associated with popping or snapping fingers, it is usually harmless. However, if your noisy finger joints are painful or swollen, you should contact your healthcare provider.

This article explains when snapping fingers and cracking knuckles can be signs of a problem. It will also discuss symptoms to be aware of and potential treatments.

What Causes Joints to Snap and Pop?

Joints may snap and pop for many reasons. Some of the conditions that cause it include:

  • A condition known as trigger finger
  • Finger and hand injuries
  • Arthritis

Trigger Finger

The tendons in your hands are like cords that attach to the ends of your fingers. When your forearm muscles contract, the tendons pull the fingers into a fist. The tendons run through a thin tube called the flexor tendon sheath. This goes from the middle of the palm to the tip of the finger.

If you have the condition known as trigger finger, that tendon movement isn't smooth and may feel painful and stiff. This can lead to snapping noises. Because of this, you may also develop some swelling on your palm.

The cause of trigger finger is often unclear. It can occur in multiple fingers, in different locations, and at different times.

Trigger finger is about six times more common in women than in men. It is also more common in individuals with diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.

Genetics and repeated use of the hand may increase the chance of developing trigger finger.

Trigger finger can happen if the size of the tendon and the size of the opening of the tendon sheath aren't compatible. This can occur if there is inflammation or swelling on the tendon.

This causes a snapping feeling when you are relaxing a fist. If symptoms get worse, you may need to use your other hand to straighten the trigger finger, or it may not straighten at all.

Treatments for trigger finger include steroid injections, rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and possibly surgery.

Ligament Injury

Ligaments hold joints together and can get damaged when a finger is sprained or dislocated. Ligaments can be partially or completely torn. If the ligament heals improperly and is too loose, the joint can pop and snap as you bend your fingers.

Common symptoms of a ligament injury include pain and swelling of the joint. If the ligament heals incorrectly, the joint may pop or snap during bending.

Finger ligament injuries may be thought of as small problems. However, if not properly treated, they can lead to long-term issues with the finger joints. If you think you may have a ligament injury, it's best to reach out to a medical professional.

Osteoarthritis

Finger osteoarthritis is the wearing away of the normally smooth cartilage surfaces of the joints. As arthritis worsens, joint movements can become painful. Arthritic joints in the fingers often cause swollen knuckles.

Finger arthritis can cause popping and snapping. This can happen as a result of small, pointed bone growths around the arthritic joints. These growths, known as bone spurs, can create uneven surfaces and connection issues. You may notice a small bump around the arthritic joint called a mucous cyst.

Osteoarthritis of the hand is more common in women over the age of 50. It is also thought to run in families.

A history of manual labor or repetitive use of the hand may also increase your chance of developing arthritis in the hand.

Treatment for Joints That Snap and Pop

Treatment may include:

  • Injections
  • Surgery
  • Wearing a splint
  • Physical therapy

Often, people start off with a simple treatment approach. If the symptoms get worse or come back, a more invasive treatment may be recommended.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

  • If the joint looks swollen, inflamed, or discolored
  • If you cannot fully extend your finger
  • If there is numbness at the fingertip
  • If there is tenderness along the palm side of the finger, especially in the fold of the joint
  • If there is morning stiffness lasting around 30 minutes
  • If the finger joint looks enlarged or deformed
  • If there is a dull, burning sensation in your fingers
  • If there is tenderness in the joint
  • If there is a loss of flexibility or a grating sensation

Summary

Fingers and knuckles that crack, snap, or pop are typically nothing to worry about. However, you should speak with your healthcare provider if you have finger pain, numbness, or a burning sensation. You should also reach out to your doctor if you see any swelling, or are having difficulty with finger movement.

These symptoms may be signs of trigger finger, a ligament injury, or osteoarthritis. If so, know that there are treatment options available. These may include injections, surgery, wearing a splint, and physical therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes fingers to crack, pop, or snap?

    Trigger finger (stenosing tenosynovitis) is the most common cause of finger joint popping.

  • Who is at risk of trigger finger?

    Trigger finger tends to affect people over 40. People who used their hands or fingers strenuously, such as farmers, musicians, and industrial workers, are commonly affected, as are people with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or diabetes.

  • What are symptoms of trigger finger?

    In addition to snapping or popping sounds, trigger finger can cause pain or soreness while gripping, joint stiffness, the locking of a finger, and a tender lump or swelling on the palm.

  • How is trigger finger treated?

    In most cases, trigger finger is treated with rest, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, finger exercises, and a finger brace. Severe cases may be treated with steroid injections or a surgery called tenolysis to release scar tissue from tendons.

  • Can arthritis cause finger popping?

    Osteoarthritis, also known as "wear-and-tear arthritis," is characterized by the loss of joint cartilage and changes in the underlying bone. The movement of an affected finger joint can cause a grating, clicking, or popping sound called crepitus.

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10 Sources
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