Almost every time I tell a friend or acquaintance about writing for Arthritis-health, this question comes up: "Am I going to get arthritis if I crack my knuckles?"

See When Hand Pain Is Osteoarthritis

The short answer is no. But there may be reasons to refrain anyway. Read on to find out why you may want to avoid knuckle-cracking.

OA thumb If knuckle cracking is accompanied by pain, swelling, or stiffness, it may be hand osteoarthritis
See
Recognizing Osteoarthritis in the Hand

To find out if knuckle-cracking is harmful, researchers have studied whether crepitus (popping or grinding) of the knuckle joints can raise the risk for hand osteoarthritis.

See What Is Crepitus?

The results of these studies conclude that—regardless of the frequency or duration of cracking—knuckle crackers' risk for arthritis is no higher than for non-crackers. There's no known connection between knuckle cracking and hand arthritis. The same holds true for any other joint that pops, like the hip or knee.

See Why Do My Knees Pop?

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Why do knuckles crack?

The popping and cracking noises that joints sometimes make is called crepitus. It's caused by gas bubbles in the fluid surrounding your joints (known as synovial fluid) being released by movement of the joint.

Crepitus is harmless and usually doesn't signal a health problem like arthritis—unless it's accompanied by pain, swelling, or immobility in the joint.

See Recognizing Osteoarthritis in the Hand

Potential drawbacks of knuckle-cracking

However, if you are a habitual knuckle cracker, there still may be reason to rein in your cracking ways. One study that surveyed 300 patients found that, compared with those who didn't crack their knuckles, the knuckle crackers:

  • Had more swelling in their hands
  • Had a weaker grip1

See Hand Pain and Rheumatoid Arthritis

The study also found that those who habitually crack their knuckles were also more likely to engage in other nervous habits, like biting their nails.

This suggests that you may be able to cut down on your knuckle cracking by following general advice on how to break nervous habits, such as finding a replacement activity or visualizing ahead of time how you will react when temptation strikes.

But whether you regularly and intentionally crack your knuckles or just do it occasionally by accident, you don't have to worry that it's raising your risk for arthritis.

Learn more:

Osteoarthritis Symptoms and Signs

Treatments for Osteoarthritis in Hands

References:

  1. "Effect of habitual knuckle cracking on hand function." Ann Rheum Dis. May 1990; 49(5): 308–309.