Will cracking your knuckles cause arthritis?

How often have you been told that if you did not stop cracking or popping your knuckles you would get arthritis? The threat seems reasonable, but the only reply you have is that it feels so good so how can it be so bad? Right? As a lifelong knuckle cracker, I can say in all honesty that this claim by anti- knuckle crackers is not true.

Why do people crack their knuckles?

After you are told that you’re hurting your hands, the inevitable follow-up questions is, “Why do you do that?” There are a variety of reasons given such as: it feels good, it alleviates pressure in the fingers, it relaxes their fingers, or simply it has become a habit and they are hardly aware that they are even doing it. Unfortunately for those who find it annoying, it is not a habit that is easy to break.

What happens when the knuckles are cracked?

Here is the science you can use to get anti-knuckle crackers to hush: When you crack your knuckles what actually causes the loud sound is not the grinding of the joints as claimed, rather, it is the release of nitrogen gas within the joint capsule that is there to act as a lubricant for the joints. You see, the bones of the fingers are connected at the joints where the ligaments bring them together. Between the joints is the joint capsule that contains synovial fluid (the lubricant) that is there to help the joints move smoothly. The act of pressing or forcing the joints causes the joints to separate. This separation creates a pocket in which the nitrogen gas asserts itself to fill the void. The forceful pressure caused by the gas makes the popping sound.

So, will you get arthritis from cracking your knuckles?

There have been numerous studies that indicate that the succinct answer is no. One such study performed in Bethesda, Maryland at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences investigated knuckle cracking. The title of their case controlled study is, “Knuckle Cracking and Hand Osteoarthritis.” The study had 214 participants, 135 of whom had hand osteoarthritis and 80 of whom did not. Of the 214 people, age 50-89, 20% did indeed crack their knuckles. Among all the participants, 18.1% who had hand osteoarthritis cracked their knuckles, while 22.5% did not crack their knuckles at all. Statistically speaking, there is no significant correlation between knuckle cracking and arthritis.  Although you are no more likely to develop arthritis by cracking your knuckles, you should know that there is some risk of developing hand weakness and you may develop functional issues later in life. 


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