Like biting your fingernails and lips, knuckle cracking is a common habit that is believed to be harmful. Some people believe that knuckle cracking can even lead to arthritis.
One of the main reasons for that belief is that familiar sound that you can hear after cracking your knuckles.
This topic has become so popular that there were many studies conducted on the matter. This article will use the information found in various studies and show you exactly what happens when you crack your knuckles. We will also answer the frequently asked question – does cracking your knuckles give arthritis?
What Happens When You Crack Your Knuckles?
When asked, most people say that they crack their knuckles when they are nervous. Some of them aren’t even aware that they are cracking their knuckles, as it has become an automatic response to unpleasant situations. Other people crack their knuckles out of boredom.
But can this habit cause serious damage to your joints? Here is what we know so far about what happens when you crack your knuckles:
- The cracking sound that you can hear when you’re cracking your knuckles is produced by stretching your finger joints. By doing so, the gas bubbles located in those joints tend to collapse or burst in the synovial fluid.
- The synovial fluid is responsible for lubricating your joints.
- Usually, once you cracked one of your knuckles or joints, you won’t be able to hear that same cracking sound if you “pop” the same knuckle again. The reason for this is because gas bubbles need some time to accumulate in the joint again.
- The cracking sound of your joints can be heard due to other reasons, such as your tendons snapping over tissues.
Should You Crack Your Knuckles?
Multiple studies have shown that cracking your knuckles doesn’t lead to arthritis. Probably one of the most interesting studies came from a Californian physician, Donald L. Unger, who conducted an experiment on himself.
Unger cracked the knuckles on his left hand for decades, while he never did it intentionally on his right hand. He analyzed the progression of arthritis in both of his hands.
After this peculiar study, the condition of both of his hands remained the same. His study won the Ig Nobel prize, an award for achievements that make people laugh and reconsider things.
Another study was conducted in California. This time, it was done by a radiology professor at the University of California, Robert D. Boutin. He found that, as fingers crack, a bright flash occurs on ultrasound. The bright flash represented the formation of the gas bubble popping in the synovial fluid. He also found that cracking your knuckles increases the range of motion in the joint.
With that said, this habit isn’t dangerous, but should you still stick with it?
Although cracking your knuckles won’t cause joint pain, this habit is still considered to be bad by some scientists as they believe that knuckle cracking reduces grip strength. On the other hand, studies conducted at the University of Harvard deny that belief. They claim that regularly cracked knuckles had the same level of swelling and ligament weakness as the knuckles of people who don’t have this habit.
What about Other Sounds that Come from The Joints?
You may have noticed some of your other joints producing the same noise as knuckle cracking does. For example, distinctive cracking noises can be heard when you squat or bend for the first time after you spent some time resting with no physical activity.
The origin of those kinds of noises is uncertain. They might occur due to your kneecap rubbing on the bones located below. Another reason could be the tendon sliding across an irregular surface.
All in all, if those noises aren’t associated with pain, they are considered harmless. However, if you do feel pain in your joints after hearing the cracking sound, you should visit your doctor.
What Really Causes Arthritis?
Now that popping joints are out of the picture, it’s time to discuss what actually does cause arthritis. The following list shows you the most common causes of joint pain and arthritis:
- RA is short for an autoimmune disorder called rheumatoid arthritis. This is a common form of arthritis, and it occurs when your body’s immune system attacks the tissues of your body. These attacks affect the synovium (the liquid that lubricates your joints) which eventually leads to your joints being damaged.
- Genetic factors
- Abnormal metabolism
How to Treat Arthritis?
There are quite a few methods that are used for treating arthritis. They include the following:
- Medications – usually used for non-inflammatory types of arthritis (like osteoarthritis)
- Physical therapies
- Occupational therapies
- Weight loss
- Surgery (joint replacement)
- Joint assistive aids
Your treatment depends on the type of arthritis you are diagnosed with, as well as on the current condition of your joints.
For example, mild forms of arthritis can be treated with natural remedies alone. With that said, patients are advised to correct their diets and increase their physical activity.
Diet choices are important because there are certain foods (like potatoes or other foods that contain a chemical called solanine) that can contribute to joint inflammation, and they should be avoided. Other foods – like fish, nuts, seeds, beans, olive oil, and whole grains – are known for having a positive effect on arthritis.
When it comes to increasing physical activity, it is known that staying physically active lowers the chances of getting arthritis in the first place, and also helps in its treatment. Of course, you should avoid heavy contact sports that can lead to injuries. Swimming is usually the most highly recommended physical activity for those who suffer from arthritis.
Cracking Your Knuckles Won’t Get You Arthritis
Does cracking your knuckles give arthritis? Now that the question is answered and the popular knuckle cracking myth is busted, you know that you shouldn’t worry too much about popping your joints.
However, if you feel discomfort or pain in your joints, don’t wait until it’s too late – visit your doctor.