cracking knuckles

does cracking knuckles cause arthritis?


Anxiety, restlessness, or just pure pleasure — there are lots of reasons why many find comfort in cracking their knuckles. But, does it cause arthritis? The short answer is no. In spite of what you’ve probably heard, that is not the case, and it’s actually like yoga for your knuckles.

There are no known detrimental effects to cracking your knuckles. At worst, knuckle-cracking may cause temporary swelling or a feeling of weakness in the hands — but arthritis, not quite.

What happens when you crack your knuckles?

The pressure applied to knuckles causes vapor pockets within the fluid inside the joints. This then creates a vacuum that sucks the joint apart rapidly, causing a popping sound in the knuckles. So why do so many people find relief in cracking their knuckles? Cracking your knuckles feels as if it relieves tension in the joints.

There are several types of arthritis, but knuckle-cracking is most commonly associated with osteoarthritis. In simple terms, Osteoarthritis is a disease where the articular cartilage, located at the end of the bone on each joint, starts to break down and flake off, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling over time.

Osteoarthritis is age- and genetic-related…and people don’t get significant osteoarthritis until they’re in their 40s, 50s, or older. The vast majority of arthritis patients have a genetic predisposition to the disease. However, if you have an injury when you’re young or tear a ligament or meniscus, that puts you at higher risk for arthritis when you get older.

So, as it turns out, you can crack your knuckles, limitlessly, without the consequences of arthritis. Just don’t be too caught off guard if your rings fit a little tighter after a knuckle-cracking session. Cracking knuckles can cause temporary swelling or a subtle increase in the size of your hands but is ultimately harmless. There are no long-term studies that show knuckle-cracking causes any damage. Until then, when it comes to your fingers, don’t even worry about it.

A study completed at the University of California, Davis on the effects of cracking your knuckles was presented at the 2015 annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. It found that knuckle crackers did not show any hand problems from the practice.

The study involved 40 people who were examined with ultrasound imaging as they attempted to crack the base knuckle of each finger. The study included 30 participants who had a history of habitually cracking their knuckles and 10 participants who did not crack their knuckles.

This study not only looked at the increased chance for arthritis but also looked at the difference in the strength of grip. It found no link between that and knuckle cracking. The takeaway from the study was that popping your joints does not lead to arthritis, swelling, or lower grip strength. But, it was found that people who crack their knuckles saw an increased range of motion over those who did not crack their knuckles.

Five fun facts on knuckle cracking

  • Joint cracking creates relief for some people; for others, it’s merely a habitual act
  • Between 25-54 percent of people crack their knuckles
  • Men are more likely to crack their knuckles than women
  • After cracking the knuckle, it usually takes 15-30 minutes to be able to crack it again
  • A grinding sound, called crepitus, will be made from movement in a joint with worn cartilage.

What happens to your body while cracking knuckles?

Cracking knuckles can be done in three ways: Pulling on the bones around the joint, bending them backward or forward, and turning them sideways. All of these methods cause the same reaction in the joint.

The cracking noise comes from nitrogen gas being pulled into the joint by the negative pressure created by the cracking. This is not harmful to the body. The cracking sound can also come from tendons snapping over tissues because of minor adjustments in their gliding paths.

This cause for the cracking noise tends to occur as a person ages and their muscle mass changes. If you have arthritis, tendonitis, or bursitis, the cracking sound is most likely due to the snapping of irregular or swollen tissues.

On the plus side, right after popping a joint, there is evidence of increased mobility. When you pop a joint, it stimulates the Golgi tendon organs, which are sensors that detect changes in muscle tension. The Golgi tendon organ then relaxes the muscles surrounding the joint.

This is the same reason that a person will feel loose and restored after leaving the chiropractor’s office. It is kind of like yoga for your knuckles.

Next time someone tries to stop you from cracking your knuckles, share this article. One person at a time, we can change the stigma against cracking your knuckles around. Snap, crackle, and pop away.

Please let us know if you have any questions and do leave a comment

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