BOD-ities: Can cracking my knuckles cause arthritis?

Close up of woman cracking her knuckles

Cracking your knuckles might be a nervous habit (or a pesky one to those around you) but the long-held belief that it will lead to arthritis is not a factual one.

In fact, there are very few potential short or long-term side effects of knuckle cracking. It may cause your fingers or hands to swell, especially if you do it often. Over many years, it might also weaken your grip strength but not to the degree that it would be noticeable or affect your ability to complete daily activities.

Cracking your knuckles might sound painful, but that cracking noise isn't cause for concern. Your joints are enclosed by a capsule and bathed in a substance called synovial fluid—it's what lubricates your joints and reduces friction during movement. When you manipulate your fingers to crack your knuckles the joint capsule stretches, creating a vacuum inside the joint. This vacuum causes gas, which is dissolved in the synovial fluid, to form into gas bubbles which pop, making that characteristic knuckle cracking sound. Interestingly, you can't repeatedly crack a knuckle because it takes some time for the gas to dissolve back in to the synovial fluid.

Is it good to cracking your knuckles?

While knuckle cracking won't cause arthritis and is generally a pretty safe habit to indulge in, stop doing it if it is painful or results in limited mobility. 

If you're experiencing joint pain anywhere on your body, don't think twice before making an appointment with an orthopaedic specialist. Joint pain can keep you from taking part in the activities you enjoy, and Main Line Health's orthopaedic team offers surgical and nonsurgical approaches to treat your pain and get you back to an active lifestyle.

To schedule an appointment with an orthopaedic specialist at Main Line Health, call (610) 686-7283.