One of the most frequently asked questions in my practice is “Will I get arthritis if I crack my knuckles?”. The simple answer is no. I’m not sure how this rumour started but it has been around for a very long time. If you want a detailed explanation, then read below!
The “popping” sound in a knuckle crack is the result of a rapid release of sudden vibratory energy in the joint. The mechanical action of cracking one’s knuckle has also been explained as negative pressure that results in a collapse of synovial fluid gas cavities (like air pockets). Knuckle cracking is often associated with relief in stiffness by the person doing it.
Two studies (1,2) have looked at older adults who regularly crack their knuckles and older adults who do not crack their knuckles. There were no indications on X-ray that habitual knuckle crackers were more likely to develop arthritis than non-knuckle crackers. However, one study (2) did find that there may be an increased likelihood of knuckle swelling and grip strength due to habitual knuckle cracking.
It is important to keep in mind that while knuckle cracking is safe for the average person, it may not be safe for patients with inflammatory disorders or other pre-existing conditions. Therefore, it is best to ask your healthcare provider to make sure you get the right information for you and your body.
Yours in health,
Dr. Gaelan Connell, BHK, DC
Castellanos, J., & Axelrod, D. (1990). Effect of habitual knuckle cracking on hand function. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 49(5), 308-09.
Swezey, R. L., & Swezey, S. E. (1975). The consequences of habitual knuckle cracking. The Western Journal of Medicine, 122(5), 377-79.