Cracking your knuckles won’t actually give you arthritis — but it could be a bad idea for other reasons

Cracking your knuckles most likely won’t give you arthritis. flickr user: orijinal
  • Cracking your knuckles is something that we all do, and have likely been told at some point to stop doing before we hurt ourselves.
  • In most cases, no real harm will be caused by cracking your joints, but there is always the potential for a few negative side effects.
  • There’s no known research-backed connection between cracking joints and arthritis.
  • Many medical professionals suggest seeking out a chiropractic adjustment or correction from a physical therapist in order to help find a permanent solution to the need for frequent cracking.

We all do it – self-crack our back, neck, and knuckles, or have that one body part that if we stretch just right, we get a satisfying “pop” out of it – but is it bad to do so? Cracking your joints is often associated with a bad rap, including allegations about the potential for arthritis, inflammation, or injury of the repeatedly cracked joint, but orthopaedic surgeon Kim L. Stearns says that cracking, popping, snapping, and creaking joints are “a normal, common occurrence.”

The popping noise itself, according to Harvard Health Publishing, “is caused by bubbles bursting in the synovial fluid – the fluid that helps lubricate joints.”

While cracking your joints isn’t the best habit to have or to acquire, it isn’t actually as bad as you may think (or have been told it is).

There’s actually no known connection between cracking joints and arthritis

Hands on table
When it comes to cracking your joints, moderation is key. Shutterstock

Good news – your mum’s been wrong all these years, you’re actually not going to get arthritis because you crack your knuckles from time to time. Sure it’s loud, annoying, and sometimes a little unsettling, but other than a few known negative side effects, cracking your joints isn’t all that bad for you – if done in moderation.

Many associate cracking joints with arthritis and future joint problems, but the research shows otherwise. Michael Behr, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon at Piedmont Healthcare stated, “There are no definitive links between knuckle cracking and arthritis or any other medical condition.”

Self-cracking may put more strain on your joints, or lead to injury

Broken Arm
In some cases, making this a daily habit could potentially lead to injury. Barabasa/Shutterstock

Overall, the research on cracking joints doesn’t necessarily deem the act as “bad,” but it does come with it’s potential side effects, especially if you find yourself cracking joints on a daily basis.

The results of a study from the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that individuals who crack their knuckles regularly were more likely to have weaker grips and experience swelling of the hands than those who were not “habitual knuckle crackers.”

Too, Dr. Pedro Beredjiklian, chief of hand and wrist surgery at Philadelphia’s Rothman Institute told TIME, “Tendons catching on irregular bone or joint formations can also explain some clicking or popping sounds.”. This is something to be mindful of, particularly with cracking or popping in the neck, shoulder, or knee region. Dr. Beredjiklian goes on to say that these popping and clicking sensations could lead to harm or injury in the long run, but it’s ultimately dependent on one’s anatomy.

A more permanent solution will lessen the chances of negative side effects

Bridge yoga
Stretching is a healthy alternative. fizkes/Shutterstock

Most of the time we crack our joints because it gives us a soothing feeling and a sense of relief. But, the fact that more often than not we do it repeatedly is a surefire indicator that cracking joints is just a temporary solution.

Doctor of Physical Therapy and clinical director of Professional Physical Therapy, Amanda Brick, told The Thirty, “when you crack your own back you may be targeting an area already under strain or compensating for other segments from abnormal movement patterns.”

Basically, the reason we feel the need to crack a joint is because of tightness, discomfort, or improper movement of the bones and musculature surrounding a joint, but we aren’t actually getting to the root of the problem when we self-crack. She goes on to say that healthy stretching is a better option that will still help to relieve pressure.

Overall, we should really leave the cracking to the professionals like chiropractors and physical therapists, who can help us figure out what’s causing the frequent need to crack joints and give us precise adjustments to feel and move better.

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