“Don’t crack your knuckles, it’ll give you arthritis!” That might be something your mom or grandma has told you since you were a wee tot. Every week I have patients ask me about this very thing. Your hands feel stiff, you give them a nice flex, and “pop!”, relief. But does this satisfying release increase the likelihood you will get arthritis in your hands? The simple answer is no.
The sound you hear when you “crack” your knuckles is the result of gas bubbles forming in the joint due to the sudden separation of cartilage within the joint. Think about pulling a wet glass off a smooth glass table. Sometimes that glass will “pop” as it separates from the table – that’s is essentially what’s happening in your joints when they make that sound.
In 1990 Castellanos and Axelrod performed a study where they looked at a group of 300 people (some crackers, some non-crackers) to see if the people who cracked their knuckles had a higher incidence of arthritis. The finding? They did not. There was no evidence found that knuckle cracking lead to arthritis.
So, should you feel free to crunch away? While the activity has been proven to not promote arthritis, it was found during the study that the chronic poppers had a higher incidence of joint swelling and decreased hand strength compared to the non-poppers. The question now is: did the knuckle popping lead to the swelling and decreased strength, or is there some other factor that caused these findings? More study is needed to make a definitive determination.