Medical Misconception: Cracking Knuckles Causes Arthritis

Each month, a health care professional will weigh in on a health and wellness myth and will explain the real cause behind the malady.

This month’s misconception: cracking knuckles causes arthritis

For years, patients have told me that their mothers and grandmothers have warned them not to crack their knuckles because it causes arthritis down the road.

It’s understandable how that myth came to be. Arthritis in the hands can cause a crackling type of sound. And it’s not a stretch to think that the cracking—produced from pulling and twisting the knuckle—is causing some type of damage.

That is true, but not in the way that you might expect.

The joints of the fingers are lined with something called synovial fluid. This fluid helps lubricate the joint and provides nutrition for the cartilage, bone and tendon. That sound you hear when you crack your knuckles is simply the result of bursting gas bubbles in the synovial fluid.

Even though it makes a lot of noise, the act of cracking your knuckles is not doing damage to the cartilage. The wear and tear of cartilage is what causes arthritis.

However, that doesn’t mean you should start snapping away. Studies have shown that cracking your knuckles can cause chronic inflammation and weakened grip strength. So while it doesn’t cause arthritis, it is best to resist the temptation of cracking your knuckles to prevent future problems.

Yatin Patel, M.D., specializes in sports medicine and general orthopaedics. He is accepting new patients at Carroll Health Group Orthopaedics. For more information, call 410-871-0088 or visit CarrollHealthGroup.com

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