Is cracking your knuckles bad for you?

Is cracking your knuckles bad for you?

It is a widely-believed tale that knuckle-cracking causes arthritis, but it turns out this myth is based on very little truth.

There was no correlation between finger popping and subsequent arthritis, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. Of the 215 respondents, the presence of hand osteoarthritis in those who cracked their knuckles and those who didn’t was not statistically significant.

Study author Dr. Kevin deWeber told NPR that knuckle-cracking may even be good for the joints and the arthritis connection was mostly an urban myth perpetuated by mothers who are sick of hearing their kids crack their knuckles.

Other studies have reached the same conclusion, including a well-known one involving a California physician. Dr. Donald Unger cracked the knuckles on his left hand twice a day for more than 60 years, but did not do the same to his right hand. After testing both hands, neither exhibited signs of arthritis.

While the habit may not lead to arthritis, it may lead to other hand problems. A separate study reported an increase in knuckle swelling and a loss of grip strength associated with knuckle-cracking.

For some, the sound of cracking knuckles is akin to fingernails down a chalkboard.

“It’s an annoyance to many people,” says Dr. Timothy Buffey, family medicine physician at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill.  “And that, as much as any study, would be a good reason to avoid it.”

So what is actually happening when a knuckle is cracked?  During the 1970’s, scientists believed the cracking sound was due to gas bubbles popping in the joints’ natural lubricating fluid.  However, a more recent study found that sound of a knuckle cracking is caused by a gas bubble forming, not popping.

“It’s a little bit like forming a vacuum,” lead study author Greg Kawchuk said in a press release  “As the joint surfaces suddenly separate, there is no more fluid available to fill the increasing joint volume, so a cavity is created and that event is what’s associated with the sound.”

Kawchuk said this research will pave the way for new studies on joint health.

“It may be that we can use this new discovery to see when joint problems begin long before symptoms start, which would give patients and clinicians the possibility of addressing joint problems before they begin,” Kawchuk said.

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One Comment

  1. I love cracking my knuckles, especially around other people.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.