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Does Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis?

If you like to crack your knuckles, there is a good chance people around you are annoyed by this habit. They might have even told you that it is bad for your fingers and could cause arthritis. But is it true? Can cracking your knuckles really cause arthritis?

What Is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a chronic condition affecting the joint that causes pain, swelling, stiffness, redness, and a decreased range of motion. Although there are many different types of this condition, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are the most common.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition in which your immune system attacks the synovial membrane enclosing the joint capsule. This causes inflammation and can significantly damage bone and cartilage.

Osteoarthritis occurs when wear and tear damage affects the cartilage. When cartilage deteriorates, there is nothing to cushion the joint, and bones may start grinding, resulting in pain and other symptoms. Cracking knuckles is believed to cause this type of arthritis.

What Happens When You Crack Your Knuckles

Your joints are lubricated with a unique synovial fluid that reduces friction among moving parts and helps preserve your joints. There are tiny bubbles in that fluid that pop when you create negative pressure by bending or stretching your fingers. So, the crack you hear is simply popping of these bubbles in the synovial fluid that lubricates your joints.

You’ve probably noticed that once you crack your knuckles, you can’t do it for some time. That’s because it takes about 15 minutes for the joints to return to the normal position and for the gas to dissolve and be ready to form those tiny air bubbles.

Does This Cause Osteoarthritis?

No, cracking your knuckles doesn’t cause osteoarthritis. Although we are still unsure about the exact causes of arthritis, it appears that age, genetic predisposition, previous joint injuries, and manual labor all play a role in the development of this chronic condition.

However, knuckle cracking has nothing to do with it. Some older research associated knuckle-cracking with osteoarthritis, but it mainly included small descriptive studies that failed to show the solid connection. This is because many people with osteoarthritis commonly experience popping sounds when moving their joints, but it seems that this is more of a consequence of the disease, not the culprit.

Newer studies confirm that knuckle cracking doesn’t seem to be the risk factor for osteoarthritis.

So, is it good to crack your knuckles?

Well, not really. 

Even though it doesn’t cause osteoarthritis, research has linked knuckle cracking with hand swelling and lower grip strength. There have also been some cases of hand injuries, but these are rare. 

Interestingly, knuckle cracking is more common in people who perform manual labor, smoke, drink alcohol, and bite their nails.

When to Visit a Doctor

If you experience pain or swelling when cracking your knuckles, you should visit a doctor. In fact, any type of chronic pain, swelling, redness, and stiffness requires a medical exam, and Space City Pain Specialists can help you treat it. Feel free to schedule an appointment if you experience any of these symptoms, and we’ll help you get rid of the pain. 

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