Killer Cracks? Nope, Just a Harmless Habit

I’m sure that someone has told you before that cracking your knuckles can cause arthritis, or damage to your hands. Well chances are, that they haven’t done their research(or they’re annoyed by you cracking your knuckles). In reality, knuckle cracking has practically nothing to do with arthritis.

Why Do People Believe This?

As you can probably tell, cracking your knuckles has nothing to do with arthritis other than the location, so why do so many people believe that cracking your knuckles causes arthritis? While there are some cases of joint cracking causing some sort of injury, these seem to be the exception, and not the rule. Not many people know what causes the cracking sound of your knuckles, and not many people know exactly what arthritis is either. This could likely be the reason this myth has stuck around so long. And since many people can’t be bothered to do research on a topic they deem trivial, they just accept this at face value and believe it to be true. Or none of this is true and this simply started with one really annoyed person coming up with a lie to get someone to stop cracking their knuckles.

So What Causes the Cracking?

It’s not very common knowledge, but there is a fluid in your joints called synovial fluid. Gas builds up in this fluid and creates bubbles. When you pull your bones apart, or bend them in an unnatural way, the bubbles collapse and cause a popping or cracking sound. The gas takes a while to build back up, so that’s why you can’t crack your knuckles over and over again immediately.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is not a single disease, but a term that refers to joint pain or joint diseases. There are over 100 types of arthritis and related diseases. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, sometimes called “wear and tear” arthritis. Osteoarthritis happens when the tissue in a joint breaks down and causes the bones to rub against each other painfully. Another common form of arthritis is Rheumatoid Arthritis. It is when your immune system attacks healthy cells by accident, and causes swelling. So there are many types of arthritis, but none of them are caused by cracking your knuckles.

What Do The Studies Say?

There have been a few experiments conducted before about this very topic. Some were small-scale, and others were larger-scale. One study had a California physician who reported on an experiment he conducted on himself. Over his life, he regularly cracked the knuckles of only one of his hands. He checked x-rays on himself after years of this behavior and found no difference in arthritis between both of his hands. Later, a larger study came to similar results. However, another study published in 1990 found that among 74 people who normally cracked their knuckles, their average grip strength was lower and there were more instances of hand swelling than among 226 people who did not crack their knuckles. However, the instance of arthritis was the same in both groups.

Should I Keep Cracking My Knuckles?

While some reports have been made of habitual knuckle cracking being linked to some sort of joint pain, it’s unlikely that anything that bad can be caused by knuckle cracking. So if you regularly crack your knuckles, you have nothing to worry about. Except worrying about anyone who might get ticked off by the sound of your knuckles. Just try to keep it as quiet as you can.

Emmanuel Casalez – St. Ignatius College Prep – DMSF Class of 2027