Can Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis?
The regular knuckle-crackers amongst us have probably been warned at some point that popping their joints will lead to arthritis. This piece of information is commonly doled out as fact, but few seem to know whether there is any specific evidence to back up the claim.
Following warnings from his mother that cracking knuckles would lead to arthritis, one Californian decided to conduct his own experiment. In his teen years, Donald Unger began cracking the knuckles on his left hand but avoided cracking them on the right. He did this for a staggering sixty years so that he could compare the two hands and see if cracking caused any difference to the left hand.
“I’m looking at my fingers, and there is not the slightest sign of arthritis in either hand,” he concluded.
There is no scientific evidence to contradict Unger’s conclusion. In past research, no link has been found between knuckle popping and arthritis.
Sammy Margo, a chartered physiotherapist, says that there is no evidence that cracking joints can cause the condition. “The amount of parents that we get in wanting to use us to tell their children not to do it is astounding. But cracking is of no concern to physiotherapists unless it’s associated with pain or swelling.”
She explains that when cracking occurs along with these symptoms it could indicate cartilage injury or wear, bone grating on bone, a cartilage tear, or osteoarthritis.
A study published by the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases suggests that cracking knuckles, while unlikely to be the culprit behind the development of arthritis, may not be a completely harmless habit. The researchers found it to be associated with hand swelling and lower grip strength. They also deduced that the habit is often associated with manual labour, nail biting, smoking and drinking alcohol.
Arthritis UK says that it is difficult to understand what causes arthritis, as there are many different types. The consensus amongst most doctors and other experts seems to be that cracking your knuckles, while possibly aggravating, won’t lead to the condition.