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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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