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Can Knuckle Cracking Actually Cause Arthritis?

Angelo A., Contributor

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We have all heard the phrase, “stop cracking your knuckles or else you will get arthritis,” many times, usually said by our parents. The reason this phrase is so widespread is because the noise that comes from cracking your knuckles that sounds like the joint is being harmed in some way. This has led to many people believing that cracking their knuckles can cause arthritis or other long term chronic effects. The truth is, cracking one’s knuckles is perfectly safe as long as it is done in moderation.

The most popular study done on this topic was when a doctor and author named Donald Unger tested this hypothesis on himself. According to Scientific American Unger, he “cracked his left hand at least twice a day leaving his right hand as a control.” After 50 years of doing this every day, he went to see a doctor. They did not notice any substantial difference between his two hands. This meant that the knuckle cracking had no effect on his joints. Unfortunately, not many people know of this experiment, so many continue to see knuckle cracking as a bad habit. However, just because it does not cause long term damage does not mean it cannot hurt your hands.

According to Harvard University, no matter how much knuckle cracking is done, it will not cause arthritis, so what causes that popping sound? Harvard concluded that the sound is from bubbles in the knuckle joints. Finger joints are filled with a fluid called synovial fluid that helps lubricate the joints. When the knuckle joint is pulled apart, a bubble in the fluid pops and collapses from being stretched out which causes a popping sound, so this has nothing to do with the bones, cartilage, or tendons in the joint. After the bubble has collapsed it takes time for it to come back together. This is why a knuckle cannot be popped multiple times in a row. Based on experiments, knuckle cracking might seem harmless, but this is not true.

Another study done by Harvard Medical School showed that over cracking knuckles due to disorders, like obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD, can have detrimental effects on the joints. The study reported people who cracked their knuckles as often as they could every single day, developed swollen knuckles and a weaker grip strength. Pulling knuckles to hard can cause them to dislocate or strain the tendons around the joint. The swollen knuckles disappear after the participant stops cracking their knuckles and the grip strength eventually rise back to normal, which proves that the negative effects were temporary. The dislocated knuckles do have to be reset but does have to heal.

These studies prove that cracking your knuckles is not dangerous, and definitely does not cause arthritis, but constant cracking or pulling to hard can cause temporary injury to the knuckle joints. Overall, it is okay to crack knuckles and it will not cause harm for most people since most people only crack their knuckles every once in a while. So if one doesn’t constantly crack knuckles, this is perfectly safe, but it is important to be careful not to pull the knuckles too hard or too often.

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Can Knuckle Cracking Actually Cause Arthritis?