Fact Check: Knuckle Cracking and Arthritis

Posted: April 20, 2012

Can knuckle cracking really give you arthritis?

The Accusation:

Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis.

The Case:

“Hey stop that! Don’t you know that can cause arthritis?”

You’ve probably heard somebody say this right after you’ve cracked your knuckles. Go ask your friends, your teachers and maybe even your pets. Regardless of who you ask, you will get several different answers.

So here you are, bombarded with useless information and you just can’t figure it out. What’s an average person to do?

Before you can reach a conclusion, you have to understand how the knuckle works and what makes that popping sound that can either satisfy beyond belief or bring unparalleled annoyance.

The knuckles are the joints where the meta carpel bones in the hand meet the proximal phalanges (the first length of the finger bones). The bones are held together by ligaments and are kept apart by a buffer of cartilage called articular cartilage. In between the cartilage buffers is a capsule filled with a lubricant called Synovial fluid that can accumulate gas bubbles within itself.

When you crack your knuckles, you stretch the capsule containing the Synovial fluid and the gas bubbles inside of it. When the bubbles are stretched enough, they burst and produce that ‘delightful’ popping noise.

But how does popping bubbles relate to arthritis?

Arthritis is the inflammation and/or swelling of one or more joints. There are many different types and in turn, many different causes. These include: injury, autoimmunity disorders (where the body attacks its own cells) and heredity factors.

Although many studies have been conducted, none have proven that the accusation is true.

If you’re a knuckle cracker and you’ve been holding your breath while reading this, first of all, exhale for goodness sakes! Your habit will not give you arthritis but holding your breath that long can’t be good for you! Well, I suppose that depends on how fast of a reader you are…anyhow, if you’ve been nervous, you can rest easy.

“No. In fact, it’s [knuckle cracking] not dangerous at all”, said Dr. Jonathan Kay, clinical director of the rheumatology unit at Massachusetts General Hospital told the Boston Globe on whether knuckle cracking causes Arthritis.

However, some of the test subjects in these studies who cracked their knuckles on a daily basis developed swelling of the hands and wrists as well as ligament and tendon damage. This was caused by overstretching of the joints and the surrounding muscles.

The Verdict:

Cracking your knuckles can’t necessarily give you arthritis or any other joint disorder, but it has the potential to cause damage.

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