Knuckle cracking: Is this habit linked to arthritis?

Several studies have been conducted to establish a link between knuckle cracking and arthritis, with the same results.

Knuckle cracking: Is this habit linked to arthritis?
© Getty/ AndreyPopov
Knuckle cracking: Is this habit linked to arthritis?

Cracking your knuckles may grind the gears of people around you, but beyond that, it might not necessarily be harmful to you. Many studies have debunked the popular myth linking the habit to arthritis.

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Knuckle cracking

There are numerous theories suggesting why our joints crack or pop, but an exact cause is yet to be established. Experts at the Harvard Medical School explain that negative pressure is produced when nitrogen gas is temporarily pulled into the joint when we crack our knuckles for instance.

The "pop" of a cracked knuckle is caused by bubbles bursting in the synovial fluid — the fluid that helps lubricate joints. The bubbles pop when you pull the bones apart, either by stretching the fingers or bending them backward, creating negative pressure.

Many studies have concluded that it does not increase the risk of getting arthritis, as your parents may have warned you about when you were a child.

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Is it a good habit though?

Although the consensus is that cracking knuckles is a harmless, albeit a potentially annoying habit in social settings, there are other reasons why you might want to stop. According to the BBC:

Some radiologists think that there is some visible damage on X-rays to knuckle joints caused by continuous cracking of them, and those who crack their knuckles habitually did, in one study, seem to have weaker hand grip.

Also, sometimes cracking is accompanied by pain which could be a sign of abnormalities of the structure of the joints such as loose cartilage or injured ligaments.

Can cracking your knuckles really cause arthritis? Can cracking your knuckles really cause arthritis?