Preparing to take on a challenge, I find myself pressing against my knuckles to hear that satisfying sound of my knuckles cracking – time to get to work! However, I’ve heard countless times from grandparents and parents that this habit will lead to giant joints in my fingers and arthritis. But does cracking your knuckles really cause arthritis? It’s time I get to the bottom of this age old rumor and see if there are any answers.
This article explains that there is space between your joints where dissolved gases in your joint fluid start to make tiny bubbles. These bubbles combine into bigger bubbles which get popped by the extra fluid that rushes into the space when you apply pressure to your knuckles. So is this bad for you? Dr. Donald L. Unger performed an investigation for over 60 years where he cracked the knuckles on his left hand at least twice a day, but never cracked the knuckles on his right hand. Despite this, he never found signs of arthritis in either hand. This itself doesn’t prove anything, after all some people smoke and never get lung cancer, but smoking can still lead to lung cancer.
Another interesting study was performed where twenty-eight residents of a nursing home were asked whether or not they cracked their knuckles. Those who had were less likely to have osteoarthritis in their hands. While fascinating, I believe the sample size in the study is way too small to prove much of anything, and it could very easily be due to chance.
A larger study from 1990 was conducted where researchers examined the hands of 300 people over the age of 45. The results found that those who cracked their knuckles seemed to have weaker grips, and 84% had signs of swelling in their hands. However, they still couldn’t say that knuckle crackers had more osteoarthritis. With a larger sample size, this study has more substance to it than the previous research. This article, however, makes an argument against this study: Maybe those who crack their knuckles have a proneness for problems later on, and knuckle cracking isn’t a cause, but merely an indicator.
A more recent study (2011) with over 200 participants looked at both if people cracked their knuckles and how often they did it. Ultimately, the rate of cracking didn’t make a substantial difference for arthritis, and the results of the study found that there wasn’t a different between those who did and did not crack their knuckles.
What can we take away from all of these studies? Nothing conclusion. Not enough research has been conducted on the issue, and the research that has been conducted is typically too small to make any conclusions based off it. For now, keep cracking your knuckles until actual evidence is found that it causes arthritis. Just don’t go too hog-wild. There’s no reason yet to believe your grandparents when they tell you that you’ll get giant ugly knuckles and terrible arthritis when you get old.