The cracking or popping sound is thought to be caused by the gases rapidly coming out of solution, allowing the capsule to stretch a little further. The stretching of the joint is soon thereafter limited by the length of the capsule. If you take an x-ray of the joint after cracking, you can see a gas bubble inside the joint. This gas increases the joint volume by 15 to 20 percent; it consists mostly (about 80 percent) of carbon dioxide. The joint cannot be cracked again until the gases have dissolved back into the synovial fluid, which explains why you cannot crack the same knuckle repeatedly.