I am a violist in Penn State’s Philharmonic Orchestra, and after a long two hour rehearsal, my fingers are often stiff and I’m just itching to crack my knuckles to relieve myself of the tension. There are some people who are chronic knuckle crackers, and then there are people like my mom (who freaks out and tells me I’ll get arthritis if I keep doing that). What I want to know is if there is actual scientific evidence that suggests cracking your knuckles is bad for your joints, or if it’s just a myth made up by people who get grossed out by the popping noise.
John Indalecio, a hand therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, believes there is not enough compelling scientific evidence to suggest that knuckle-cracking will cause arthritis. However, if a habit is formed, there is a chance that more problems could occur down the road. Sounds reasonable to me, but the first article I found was from Huffington Post, so I think I’ll need to look at the actual studies to see if the results support this claim.
A PLOS ONE study concludes, “Presently, the literature in this area is confusing in that the energy produced during joint cracking is though to exceed the threshold for damage, but habitual knuckle cracking has not been shown to increase joint degeneration . Ultimately, by defining the process underlying joint cracking, its therapeutic benefits, or possible harms, may be better understood.” In a nutshell: making cracking your knuckles a habit has NOT been shown to cause an increase in joint issues. More experiments would need to be done in order to further assess the long-term effects.
What I’m wondering is if there has ever been a study examining the effect of knuckle-cracking on many different people considering the genetics one may have to make them more prone to joint or muscle issues. If you have a family history of arthritis or osteoporosis, for example, does the effect of cracking your knuckles worsen? Are there benefits to having certain types of people crack their knuckles to create these cavities in the finger joints?
Another thing- the PLOS ONE study was definitely very thorough, but the average person would find it difficult to get the big picture of what the scientists discovered. For so long, everyone believed (and some still believe) the sound of cracking knuckles came from air bubbles being popped, but this study proves otherwise. I think the information would be much more accessible to the general public and less likely to be misunderstood if another version of the study was published simplifying the findings and explaining what they mean for us.