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Does Cracking Your Knuckles Causes
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March 18, 2015
By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist







Without a doubt it’s one of the most irritating sounds your
husband, wife, child or friend can make. But can this common
habit actually cause harm? If you have a knuckle-cracking
addiction, could it be setting you up for a lifetime of pain? Sure,
cracking your knuckles gets everyone aggravated but some
people say it also causes arthritis. Is this true? Or just an old
wives’ tale to persuade you to leave your knuckles alone?

Between 25 and 54 percent of Americans crack their knuckles,
according to a 2011 study from the Uniformed Services
University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, and men are more
likely to indulge than women (1990, Mount Carmel Mercy
Hospital, Detroit).

The behavior becomes a habit because of the release of tension
you feel in the joint, and the beneficial feeling of an increased
range of movement.

We take a closer look at knuckle cracking to find out whether
this behavior is a pre-runner for arthritis and other joint
problems.

What Causes the Cracking Noise from Your Knuckles?

Your knuckles may snap or crack with a loud pop, or quietly
crunch when you move your fingers. While the sound may be
unmistakable, experts aren’t really sure what causes the
audible joint noise. One theory involves something called
synovial fluid bubbles. When you extend the finger joint, the
pressure inside the finger decreases. The gases in the joint like
carbon dioxide are released in bubble form. The bubbles are
unstable and they collapse rapidly, bursting with an audible
pop.

Or, knuckle joint cracking may be confused with the sound of
tendons snapping above the joint, according to John Hopkins
Department of Orthopedic Surgery. The tendons are rubber
band-like structures that keep your muscles attached to your
bones. Tendons may snap and crack when they move over a
joint like the knuckle.

Crepitus is a grinding sound that may also contribute to the
sound of knuckles cracking. The sound is due to nitrogen
bubbles moving in and out of solution as the joint is
manipulated.

The question is, whatever causes the cracking sound, could it
also be causing arthritis? When you suffer from hand arthritis
you suffer a reduction in your grip strength, difficulty writing,
and problems handling small objects and carrying things. We
looked at the scientific evidence into the link between knuckle
cracking and arthritis.

Yes, Knuckle Cracking Causes Arthritis

That cracking knuckles causes arthritis has long been the
subject of folklore.

The force required to crack a knuckle has been calculated to go
past the threshold at which cartilage damage is caused,
according to studies like a 1989 report written by P Watson,
WG Kernohan, and RA Mollan.

The bubble-forming process is mechanically similar to the
bubble-forming process on ships’ propellers, according to a
1975 study by Swezey and Swezey, which is proven to cause
wear and tear to the propeller surfaces.

Therefore it is logical to assume that the same process
happening in the knuckles should cause cartilage damage in the
joint, which over time leads to arthritis.  Or is it?

No. Experts Say Knuckle Cracking Does Not Lead to Arthritis



























Dr. Donald Unger in 1988 used his own experience to conduct a
scientific study into the answer to the question “Does knuckle
cracking lead to arthritis of the fingers?” which he posed to the
editors of Arthritis and Rheumatism, a rheumatology journal.

He reported that he had been cracking the knuckles on his left
hand every day for over 50 years, while he had never cracked
the knuckles on his right hand.

After analyzing his two hands he concluded there was “no
arthritis in either hand, and no apparent differences between
the two hands.... There is no apparent relationship between
knuckle cracking and the subsequent development of arthritis
of the fingers.”

Following on from the results of this admittedly rather small
study group, a 2011 study from the Uniformed Services
University of the Health Sciences looked at 214 people, 20
percent of whom regularly cracked their knuckles. Out of this
20 percent, 18.1 percent had arthritis in their hands. However,
out of the people who did not crack their knuckles, 21.5
percent also had arthritis – the chances of having arthritis were
roughly the same whether you crack your joints or not.

Knuckle Cracking Actually Helps Prevent Arthritis?

Dr Robert Swezey responded to the letter written by Dr. Donald
Unger by saying his 1975 study also found no link between
knuckle cracking causing arthritis. He had looked at 28
residents in a nursing home in LA and found that those people
who cracked their knuckles were actually less likely to have
osteoarthritis in their hands.

One of the other possible positive sides to knuckle cracking is
the increased mobility you feel in the fingers after the muscles
surrounding the joint are relaxed – you feel looser, more
relaxed and better able to manipulate your hands.


However, Knuckle Cracking May Be Associated with Other Risks

A 1990 study by the Department of Internal Medicine at Mount
Carmel Mercy Hospital in Detroit showed that while knuckle
cracking may not cause arthritis it is not completely risk free.
The 74 participants in the 300-strong study group that cracked
their knuckles were more likely to have inflammation of their
hands and a weaker grip than people who did not crack their
knuckles.

The authors concluded that habitual knuckle cracking resulted
in functional hand impairment over time.

What Are the Causes of Hand Arthritis?

It is clear that while a knuckle-cracking habit may not make it
more likely that you get arthritis of the hand, getting older does
increase your chances.

The chances of having hand arthritis is 22 percent in people
aged 71 to 100 years. Other risk factors for hand arthritis
include a history of joint trauma, a family history of the
condition, and heavy labor involving the hands. Knuckle
cracking may actually be a consequence of arthritis rather than
a cause, as the cartilage is worn down by the condition
resulting in noise when the joints move.

So if you enjoy cracking your knuckles, carry on. But just be
aware that your habit could be driving your relatives crazy –
the doctors in the 1975 study of residents in the LA nursing
home concluded: “The chief morbid consequence of knuckle
cracking would appear to be its annoying effect on the
observer.”



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