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Does Cracking Your Knuckles Really Cause Arthritis?

There are two kinds of people in this world: the "poppers," and those who cringe at the poppers favorite pastime: popping, or cracking, their knuckles.

Okay, there are actually more than two kinds of people in this world. But it really is a well-drawn line between those who crack their knuckles and those who detest the habit. And those who crack have surely heard the warnings from those who don't - hundreds of times if not more - that "if you keep cracking your knuckles like that, you're going to get arthritis."

So is there any truth to the warning, or was it just an old wives tale invented by some remarkably annoyed non-poppers?

Snap, Crackle, Pop!

Your joints can make a variety of sounds: popping, cracking, grinding, and snapping. All of which can leave some of us cringing and covering our ears in disgust.

So where does the sound come from?

Each joint is contained in a small bag of special fluid called "synovial fluid." When you stretch or pull your joint to "crack" it, you are stretching the bag of fluid. As a result, a bubble of carbon dioxide gas is released inside the bag and a cracking noise is produced.

After you '"crack" or "pop" your knuckles, or any other joint in your body, it takes 10-15 minutes for the carbon dioxide to re-dissolve into the fluid. This is the reason you might have tried to crack your knuckles again immediately and didn't succeed.


Popping your knuckles may be annoying to others, but it doesn't cause arthritis, enlarged joints or musculoskeletal problems," says John Klippel, M.D., director of the Arthritis Foundation.

Time for truth!

There is no recorded evidence that cracking your knuckles leads to arthritis - but there are suggestions that it can lead to other issues with the hands later in life.

So What Is Arthritis?

Undoubtedly, you or someone you know suffers from arthritis. In fact, nearly 70 million people (that's 1 out of every 3) in the U.S. alone fall victim to this painful disease.

Amazingly, arthritis is a general term for a group of more than 100 diseases. The word "arthritis" means "joint inflammation." With arthritis, an area in or around a joint becomes inflamed, causing pain, stiffness and, sometimes, difficulty moving.

The most common type is known as osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease. It is associated with a breakdown of cartilage in joints and can occur in almost any joint in the body.

While the symptoms vary in severity from person to person, the most commonly shared symptoms are pain, swelling, stiffness, tenderness, and redness.

Causes Of Arthritis?

What are the actual causes of arthritis? Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer as of yet ... but knuckle cracking is not one of them!

Although the exact cause of arthritis may not be known, there are several risk factors that are linked to the disease.

  • Age. The risk of developing arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, increases with age.

  • Gender. In general, arthritis occurs more frequently in women than in men.

  • Obesity. Being overweight puts extra stress on weight-bearing joints, increasing wear and tear, and increasing the risk of arthritis.

  • Work factors. Some jobs that require repetitive movements or heavy lifting can stress the joints and/or cause an injury, which can lead to arthritis.

Knuckle Cracking

Depending on your point of view, knuckle-popping sounds disgusting or cool. About a quarter of the people in the U.S. crack their knuckles and might begin to lose their grip a little. Constant cracking can weaken the fingers.

Cracking The Case

So where did the old wives' tale about knuckle cracking leading to arthritis actually come from?

"I think this one started when older people with osteoarthritis heard kids cracking their knuckles," says rheumatologist Yusuf Yazici, M.D. "Since people with osteoarthritis tend to make the same grinding or cracking noise when they move the joints in their fingers and knees, they assumed kids would get it down the road."

Makes sense, doesn't it. But while the arthritis connection may be an old wives' tale, cracking your knuckles can hurt your hand in other ways, and there's no benefit to doing it.

Cracking Knuckles

In 1990, a researcher looked at the hand function in 200 adults, age 45 and above. He didn't find a greater tendency toward arthritis in the 74 habitual knuckle crackers, but the knuckle crackers were more likely to have swollen hands and reduced hand strength.

According to Dr. Edward McFarland, MD, "the only time to worry about cracking or popping of a joint is if there is pain when the joint pops. Swelling is not normal and should be evaluated if it accompanies the noises."

In addition, there is evidence that people who habitually crack their knuckles have decreased hand strength, and are more likely to have swollen hands.

So there you have it! While cracking knuckles may not cause arthritis, there is strong suggestion it can injure hands in other ways. Plus, at least among the non-popping crowd, it's no way to win friends.

Recommended Reading

You Don't Have to Live with Pain! The Self-Healing Benefits of Stretching

14 Fruits and Vegetables That Provide the Best Protection Against Arthritis

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