Picture of Taméra Ford, OTR/L

Taméra Ford, OTR/L

Does Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis?

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a joint ailment, with inflammation, pain, and stiffness. It can stop regular activities. There are two types: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is from worn joints, while rheumatoid is caused by the body’s immune system attacking its own joints. Professional help is needed to diagnose and treat it.

It can affect people of all ages, due to genetics, lifestyle, injury, or age. Signs are joint pain, swelling, reduced movement, and stiffness. The sound is from released gas bubbles in the fluid around the joints.

To ease discomfort, exercise strengthens the muscles around affected joints. Keeping a healthy weight reduces pressure on joints and lessens damage.

Myths and Misconceptions

Cracking knuckles has been linked to arthritis, but science says otherwise. It’s the release of gas bubbles in our joints that causes the sound. And while it won’t give us arthritis, excessive cracking can lead to ligament damage or weakened grip strength.

Studies have shown that habitual knuckle crackers aren’t any more likely to get arthritis than non-crackers. For example, in 1990 Dr. Donald L. Unger cracked one hand for 60+ years and left the other uncracked. Both hands showed no signs of arthritis.

The Science Behind Cracking Knuckles

Cracking knuckles is a common habit that some people engage in. According to studies, the cracking sound is produced when gas bubbles within the synovial fluid of the joints collapse. This process is known as cavitation. The rapid changes in pressure during cracking do not appear to have any long-term detrimental effects on joint health. In fact, one study showed that individuals who crack their knuckles regularly had no higher risk of developing arthritis than those who do not.

What Happens When You Crack Your Knuckles?

Ever questioned what happens when you crack your knuckles? It’s just a simple action, but there’s a science behind it. Gas bubbles in the synovial fluid around your joints make the sound heard when knuckles crack. This fluid reduces friction between bones.

Pulling or twisting the finger causes pressure to the joint. This pressure squeezes the synovial fluid out of the joint space, creating a vacuum. This sudden release of the vacuum produces the popping sound when knuckles crack.

So why do some people find cracking knuckles so satisfying? It’s likely because of the immediate feeling of relief and relaxation that follows. When knuckles crack, stretch receptors in the joint activate, sending signals to the brain. These signals help promote a sense of satisfaction and ease tension.

Is There Any Link Between Cracking Knuckles And Arthritis?

For years, cracking knuckles has been feared to cause arthritis. However, research has proven this wrong, with no proof linking knuckle-cracking to arthritis. It’s simply the sound of synovial fluid moving in the joints, and harmless.

Studies have shown that those who do it often don’t suffer any long-term negative effects on their joints. In fact, they may have increased hand strength and dexterity!

That being said, it’s important to be careful when cracking knuckles. Excessive or forceful manipulation of joints can lead to joint damage and pain. So, crack them sparingly and gently.

Other Effects Of Cracking Knuckles

Cracking your knuckles may have various impacts on your joints and overall health. Apart from the common fear of arthritis, there are other effects to think about, such as:

  • Inflammation
  • Reduced grip strength
  • Ligament damage
  • Joint instability
  • Accelerated osteoarthritis progression

Plus, there are social implications too, but not everyone who cracks their knuckles will experience these effects. So, how can we prevent them?

Try gentle stretching exercises to maintain flexibility and avoid any stiffness. Do hand strengthening exercises to make up for grip strength loss. Gradually cut down on cracking to stop the habit. And find alternatives like squeezing a stress ball or using hand fidget toys.

Tips For Relieving Joint Discomfort

Joint discomfort can be bothersome. To find relief, try these tips:

  1. Make physical activity a priority. Strengthen muscles and improve flexibility.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight. Reduces joint stress.
  3. Apply heat or cold therapy. Relax or reduce inflammation.
  4. Use assistive devices. Braces, splints, or walking aids.
  5. Practice mindful relaxation techniques. Deep breathing and meditation.
  6. Incorporate joint-friendly foods. Omega-3s, antioxidants, and calcium.
  7. Avoid lifestyle choices that exacerbate joint discomfort. Like smoking tobacco.

Take control of your wellbeing! Don’t let joint discomfort hold you back from life’s activities.

If you have persistent joint pain or discomfort, schedule an appointment to see a hand therapist at Restored Hope Hand Therapy today!

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