True or False: Cracking Your Knuckles Can Lead to Arthritis

mythbuster graphic Crack. Pop. Click. These sounds jump from the joints of the many children and adults who are in the habit of cracking their knuckles. If you cracked your knuckles as a child, you may have been warned that it could cause you to develop arthritis later in life. Is this true? Probably not, according to a handful of studies on the subject. While cracking your knuckles may not cause arthritis, some researchers believe that habitual cracking could create some problems later on. Not to mention that the incessant pops and clicks are likely to be a major annoyance to those around you.

Evidence for the Health Claim

Your knuckles are the joints in your fingers and toes. They are located where two bones meet, and they are bathed in a liquid called synovial fluid , which lubricates the joints. Sometimes a bubble of gas develops in the synovial fluid, and when the joint is manipulated in certain ways (eg, when a person is bending or compressing his or her hand), the bubble can burst, making an audible popping or cracking sound. Arthritis is an extremely common problem for older adults, with the majority of people over age 65 having signs of the condition. There are two major forms of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis results from inflammation of the joints, and can cause pain, redness, swelling, and eventually deformity and loss of function. Osteoarthritis , the most common form, results from wear and tear on the joints over time, which is why it tends to affect older adults. While there is no reason to believe that knuckle cracking would lead to rheumatoid arthritis, it makes sense that habitual trauma to a joint might eventually cause tissues to break down and wear away leading to osteoarthritis. In fact, some researchers have reported cases of people who habitually cracked their knuckles and went on to develop osteoarthritis or other joint problems. For example, in a case report published in the British Medical Journal, researchers report that a man who habitually cracked and popped many of his joints had damage in his right hand indicative of arthritis. Another study published in the Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers simulated the act of cracking knuckles and found that the energy used to crack your knuckles is enough to damage the cartilage in your joints. Do these reports mean knuckle cracking can lead to arthritis? Or are they just chance findings, since so many people develop osteoarthritis whether they crack their knuckles or not?

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