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Can cracking knuckles cause arthritis?

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

There is no evidence that cracking knuckles increases the risk of arthritis. There have been studies done to determine if there is a link but none was found.

The cracking sound is not actually due to the bones in the joint rubbing off each other. The actual reason for the cracking sound is the release of gases in the finger joints. Inside a joint capsule we have synovial fluid which acts as a lubricant to allow the bones rub smoothly off each other. Synovial fluid contains gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

When you crack your knuckles, the pressure inside the joint capsule increases but the increased pressure is limited by how much synovial fluid is contained in the joint. Synovial fluid cannot expand unless pressure inside the joint drops and the dissolved gases can escape from the fluid. The cracking or popping sound comes from the gases rapidly being released from the fluid. The gas takes about 30 minutes to build up in the joint again after cracking meaning you can only crack each joint once.

However, while regularly cracking your knuckles will not cause arthritis, it may damage soft tissue such and ligaments and may cause dislocation of tendons. There is some evidence that this can cause swelling and may reduce grip strength if done regularly.

In conclusion, many people find their joints feel less stiff after cracking; however it is fairly harmless unless done too much.

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