Is it Time to Start Cracking Down?

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┬áproneness 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.




6 thoughts on “Is it Time to Start Cracking Down?

  1. Katherine Sharon Trimble

    This post is extremely interesting considering that I crack my knuckles all the time. Another thing that I do is crack my neck. I found this interesting article on neck cracking:
    It goes into detail on spinal manipulation leading to an increase risk of having a stroke. He also states that if you are younger, spinal manipulation is less dangerous because you have developed muscle strength.

  2. C. Schaad Post author

    Good point! I hadn’t of third variables that might play into this. It certainly is a possibility that people who have labor intensive careers suffer more from arthritis and swollen joints. There’s a fact sheet that says that 58% of service workers and 67% of farm workers had arthritis, but I’d be interesting to see how many of these people (if any) cracked their knuckles in addition. Perhaps the hard labor caused both the knuckling cracking (as a way to relieve arthritis pain) and the arthritis.

  3. Jesenia A Munoz

    While there seems to be no hard evidence to whether this habit links directly to arthritis or not, I found some interesting information on this website.

    First off, I learned that it takes about 30 minutes for the carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen to dissolve back into the synovial fluid (the liquid inside the joint capsule that helps the joints move smoothly) which is the reason why you can’t crack your knuckles back to back without that time in between.
    Secondly, I learned that while it’s unlikely that cracking your fingers will cause the damage to the cartilage that leads to arthritis, it can lead to instability in the joint and loss of grip strength and hand motion.

    I crack my fingers sooooo many times in one day I don’t even think twice about it but all I know is that my hand cramps up if I don’t.. I wonder why.

  4. Abigail Charlotte Ventosa

    This is so true, I always crack my knuckles and have been constantly told not to. However, I think it depends on the person. Comparing it to how some people smoke a lot and don’t get lung cancer and some smoke a little and unfortunately get lung cancer is the perfect comparison to this.

  5. Austin White

    Very interesting post. I have an uncle whose hands are clearly swollen from years of cracking his knuckles for fun. I don’t think he has arthritis, but it definitely is noticeable when you look at his hands. Do you think a factor that could play into this study is what people do for a living? Maybe people with jobs which center more around physical labor with hands would have a greater impact on someone who cracked their knuckles opposed to someone who did a less labor- intensive job who also cracked their knuckles? Just some food for though. Thought this post was a nice out of the box blog.

  6. Kathleen Harward

    I really like this post because I have a terrible habit of cracking my knuckles, and have always been told it leads to arthritis. I’m glad to hear there is not enough hard evidence to stop cracking my knuckles and other joints for that matter! I was also always told that cracking my knuckles would give me fat fingers, but there seems to be no hard evidence to back this up either.

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