Can Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis?

Your mother may have warned you about it. Or maybe it was your grandfather. “Don’t crack your knuckles!” they say. “It will give you arthritis!” It may have gotten you to stop engaging in this bad habit as a child, but is it really true? Can cracking your knuckles lead to arthritis?

Why Do Knuckles Crack?

In order to answer this question with absolute certainty, one must first fully understand exactly what knuckle cracking is. It turns out that this familiar sound is actually caused by the small gas bubbles that form in the fluid that surrounds and cushions your joints (synovial fluid). Clinically known as crepitus, the auditory cracks and pops that joints often make occurs when certain movements cause gas to bubble up from within these synovial fluid pockets.

Reasons to Stop Cracking Knuckles

In general, crepitus is harmless and doesn’t necessarily signal a health problem like arthritis. However, the act of cracking one’s knuckles may stress joints in ways that are completely unnecessary and gratuitous. Frequent knuckle crackers should particularly avoid this habit if it is accompanied by pain, swelling, or immobility in the joint.

As quoted in Arthritis Health, a recent study of 300 patients found that knuckle crackers generally had weaker grips and were more likely to have swelling in their hands.

Correlations with Small Joint Arthritis and Wrist Pain

Although there is no direct link between arthritis and the cracking of knuckles (or any other joints for that matter), the habit is far from a healthy one, particularly if the knuckle crackers engages in the action frequently or engages in knuckle cracking sessions of considerable duration.

Conditions such as small joint arthritis when constant motion causes a thinning of the cartilage in the finger joints. The constant joint movement that is associated with excessive knuckle cracking can only exacerbate this condition. 

In general, knuckle crackers should pay exceptionally close attention to sore wrist and fingers. Particularly common, wrist pain can be absolutely debilitating, and conditions of the wrist, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and DeQuervain’s tendonitis, can easily become quite serious.

For More Information

If you live in South Florida and have additional questions about knuckle cracking or wrist/hand health in general, please contact Dr. Ivan G. Olarte, Dr. Stephen L. Helgemo, Jr., or one of the other highly trained and qualified medical professionals at the Florida Hand Center. A knowledgeable medical expert is on hand to help you with issues that range from pain and swelling to complete loss of mobility.