There’s an age old myth that says cracking one’s knuckles will lead to arthritis. I’m sure you’ve heard it at some point in your life. Perhaps you’ve even shared this little piece of advice with friends or family members. But the question is, is this myth fact or fiction? Are knuckle crackers actually damaging their joints?
Cracking Knuckles Cause Arthritis: Fact or Fiction?
Depending on the research you read, between 24 to 54% of people (more men than women) admit to cracking their knuckles. For some people it’s a nervous habit, while for others it brings a sense of relief. Whatever the reason for it, knuckle cracking results in a noise bothersome to many. What causes this unpleasant sound? The cracking sound is caused when space between the joints increases. This increase in space causes the gases dissolved in the synovial fluid surrounding the joint to form microscopic bubbles. When the bubbles merge, they create larger bubbles that are popped by additional fluid which rushes in to fill the enlarged space. Once cracked, joints can’t be cracked again for another 15 minutes, as they return to normal size and more gases dissolve in the fluid.
Truthfully, very few studies have been done to determine the impact of knuckle cracking, but those conducted report similar findings. In one study, a Californian doctor named Donald Unger cracked the knuckles on one hand twice per day, leaving the other hand untouched. His findings: “I’m looking at my fingers, and there is not the slightest sign of arthritis in either hand,” he said. In 1975, twenty-eight residents in an retirement residence were asked whether they crack their knuckles habitually. It was found that those who had, were less likely to have osteoarthritis. Another study conducted in 1990, showed that knuckle crackers over the age of 45 had weaker grips and 84% had signs of swelling in their hands. That being said, there was no difference in the prevalence of osteoarthritis between the knuckle-crackers and the non-knuckle crackers. The most recent study conducted looked at whether the frequency of knuckle cracking had any affect. Those who cracked their knuckles every 15 minutes showed no greater link to osteoarthritis than those who cracked them once or twice per day.
Fiction. Based on the research above, we can safely say that cracking one’s knuckles will not lead to arthritis. That being said, next time you go to crack your knuckles keep the conclusion of the retirement home study in mind: “The chief morbid consequence of knuckle cracking would appear to be its annoying effect on the observer.”