Many often wonder if cracking your knuckles and other joints is more than just a bad habit, and could actually lead to long-term damage to the joints or even cause arthritis. With a quick science lesson on joints and the support of research evidence, let’s see if we can bust this myth, or if it holds up to be true.
What causes the “cracking” sound?
Let’s look at what actually causes that “cracking” sound…
Your bones are separated at the joint by cartilage and a gap known as the sinovium, which is filled with synovial fluid. The purpose of this is to reduce the friction between your bones, allowing you to easily flex and move them without discomfort.
When you stretch the space between your bones (for example, when you go to crack them) it causes the pressure between the bones to decrease, releasing gas into your synovial fluid. The “cracking” sound is merely the collapsing of these gas bubbles in the fluid in your joint.
Can this lead to arthritis?
The good news is that there is no evidence to suggest that cracking your knuckles makes you any more or less likely to develop arthritis, and this is supported by plenty of research studies.
In fact, one dedicated individual committed himself to cracking only the knuckles in his left hand for 60 years, and showed no difference in the appearance of arthritis between his left and right hands.
Although cracking your knuckles has not been shown to explicitly cause arthritis, that doesn’t mean that it is completely without consequences. Sometimes knuckle-crackers can go too far and the resulting “pop” is actually the sound of a dislocated joint or broken bone. Other times accidental injuries including over-stretching and even tearing ligaments can occur.
Some research also suggests that habitually cracking your knuckles can lead to reduced grip strength and hand function, as well as instability in the joint. The good news is that these concerns are far less daunting than a diagnosis of arthritis (and you won’t have to worry about your knuckle cracking habit causing that), but you still may want to be careful or try to cut back on this habit.