Medical Myths: Cracking your knuckles gives you arthritis
Where did the myth come from?
There are two people in this world—those who crack their knuckles and everyone else who finds it revolting. If you fall into the latter category quite why anyone would want to do something as stomach-turning as cracking the joints in their fingers is beyond comprehension.
There’s an association with it being ‘manly’ or intimidating or to signify getting on with work. The idea is that it’s ‘loosening’ up the finger joints in some way, ostensibly so the fingers are more flexible. But this is not the case—cracking your knuckles does nothing for improving dexterity.
The idea that it gives you arthritis probably comes from two things: the first is a logical (if incorrect) idea that the noise must be doing some damage and secondly that those with arthritis can sometimes have clicks (known as crepitus) in the joints.
What’s the truth?
While people who have arthritis might have creaking or cracking joints, actually making the joints crack doesn’t cause arthritis to form in the first place. Put simply, there’s no evidence that cracking the knuckles actually does any harm to the joints.
While it might not sound nice, and might make people wince, the sound is not actually damaging. It’s caused by bubbles of gas that have formed in the joint being ‘popped’. When someone cracks their knuckles, they increase the space in the joint which causes the gas dissolved in the synovial fluid which surrounds the joint to form bubbles.
It’s these bubbles that make the noise when placed under pressure.
So nothing to worry about?
Cracking your knuckles isn’t entirely risk-free. There is some evidence that it can, if you’re unlucky, cause injury to the tendons—the thick, fibrous material that connects muscles to the bones—as applying pressure to the joint can cause these to tear. Although it’s rare, it’s still a risk.
The biggest risk if you crack your knuckles though is that people around you are going to wince and try and avoid your company.