This myth has been around for years. And the idea that habitual knuckle cracking can cause arthritis seems logical. You’re putting pressure on your joints, which surely can lead to joint pain, right?
Thankfully this is not the case. Studies have shown that there is no correlation between cracking your knuckles and developing arthritis. The popping sound relates to tiny bubbles in your joint fluid. But there may be other long term effects of cracking your knuckles that you haven’t considered.
What is Arthritis?
Although an incredibly common condition, arthritis is not that well understood. Arthritis isn’t actually a single disease – it’s a general term for someone suffering from joint pain or joint disease. There are over 100 types of arthritis and related conditions, and more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children suffer from some form of the condition.
Arthritis is more prevalent among women, and becomes more frequent as people get older. There are four main categories of arthritis, which we have listed below:
- Degenerative Arthritis: Over time, the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones wears away, causing bone to rub against bone, which leads to pain, swelling and stiffness
- Infectious Arthritis: Some form of infectious virus, fungus or bacteria enters the joint and causes inflammation
- Inflammatory Arthritis: The immune system doesn’t function correctly, and mistakenly attacks the joints, causing inflammation. This can lead to joint erosion
- Metabolic Arthritis: Uric acid can build up and form crystals in the joints, shaped like needles. This can result in sudden spikes of severe joint pain or an attack of gout
The symptoms of those suffering from arthritis can vary in type and severity. Not all symptoms are constant either. Some people’s symptoms get worse over time, while some reach a plateau. The most common symptoms include swelling, pain and stiffness in your joints, as well as a decreased range of motion.
In some cases, arthritis can lead to permanent joint changes, which can sometimes be seen in knobbly finger joints. In extreme cases, arthritis can damage more than your joints – it can affect the heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes and skin too.
What Happens When You Crack Your Knuckles?
When cracking your knuckles, you force your fingers forward, backward, or pulled straight away from the hand. These movements cause a change of pressure in the joint, which results in gas bubbles forming in the knuckle’s joint fluid.
We’re not actually certain whether the popping sound comes from the gas bubbles forming or popping. We do know that it takes around 15-20 minutes for the bubbles to dissipate, and for your bones to move back into their normal positions, which is why you can’t crack your knuckles again straight away.
● There are over 100 types of arthritis, though the condition can be divided into four main categories: degenerative, infectious, inflammatory and metabolic arthritis
● Arthritis doesn’t just affect the elderly – you can develop arthritis regardless of age, race or gender
● The popping sound when you crack your knuckles is linked to gas bubbles in the fluid of your knuckle joints, but we don’t know if it’s caused by the bubbles forming or popping
● Cracking your knuckles doesn’t lead to arthritis, but it can result in swollen fingers and reduced grip strength
Can Knuckle Cracking Be Beneficial?
Even if knuckle cracking doesn’t cause arthritis, that doesn’t mean you should take up the habit. Not only can the sound irritate those around you, it’s been suggested that chronic knuckle cracking can lead to reduced grip strength, and swelling in your hands.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, there are also at least a few reported cases of people suffering from acute injuries whilst attempting to crack their knuckles. The forceful manipulation needed to create an audible popping sound can lead to tendon, ligament or joint damage, though such injuries should be fairly easily treatable.
If you do crack your knuckles on a regular basis, now might be the time to give up the habit. Correlations have been found between knuckle cracking and reducing the strength of your hands have been found, and research is ongoing – there could be any number of long term ramifications that have yet to be discovered.