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The knuckles are the joints of the fingers which are brought into prominence when the hand is clenched and a fist is made. The word is cognate to similar words in other Germanic languages, such as the Dutch “Knokkel” (knuckle) or German “Knöchel” (ankle), i.e., Knöchlein, the diminutive of the German word for bone (Knochen). Anatomically, it is said that the knuckles consist of the metacarpophalangeal and interphalangeal joints of the finger. The knuckles at the base of the fingers may be referred to as the 1st or major knuckles while the knuckles at the midfinger are known as the 2nd and 3rd, or minor, knuckles. However, the ordinal terms are used inconsistently, and can be found referring to any of the knuckles.
The physical mechanism behind the popping or cracking sound heard when cracking joints such as knuckles is still uncertain, although it is widely believed to be caused by synovial fluid filling the vacuum left by the joint’s displacement.