Does Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis?



Does Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis?


handYou might be surprised to know that I never cracked my knuckles as a kid.

'Yeah right Dr Brad, you're a chiropractor. I bet you were cracking every knuckle you could find! Your own, your brothers, the cats. Anything!'

Well no sorry, but I didn't. I never practised on the cat, I promise.

Anyway..... it was a generally accepted urban myth back in the 70's and 80's that cracking your knuckles could lead to arthritis. I remember my older brother cracking the knuckles in his hands as a kid, and firmly being told not to do it. My mum also used to tell my brother and I that punching each other in the arm would cause cancer, not that it ever stopped us (or him, really, to be more precise).

Even if I was a knuckle cracker, I probably wouldn't have stopped. Arthritis was for old people, and I was a young person so I didn't have to worry about it. But I never forgot about it.

This urban myth, like many others at the time, was well known and it was something that you would hear people talk about quite often. But is it actually true?

Well, no. There is no evidence that shows that cracking your knuckles, or any other joint in your body for that matter, will lead to arthritis. In fact one curious child performed a very interesting personal experiment. Dr Donald Unger, a medical doctor, decided at a young age to test out his mothers warning that cracking his knuckles would cause arthritis. Dr Unger then proceeded to only crack the knuckles in his left hand, and NEVER in his right hand, for 60 years!

He found that there was no difference in the amount of arthritis in his hands after 60 years. Whilst this is only anecdotal evidence from a study size of exactly 1, and would not be considered 'real' science,  it still ended up with Dr Unger receiving the Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2009. (It's like the Nobel Prize, but highlight scientists whose work is somewhere between silly and serious.)

Some serious research has been done that shows that long term knuckle cracking may cause swelling and a loss of grip strength in some people, but it showed no increased risk of developing arthritis.

So there you go, feel free to crack away, it's probably not going to cause you any harm. Only to the people around you that cringe every time they hear that crunch!


If you have any questions, or would like to share your own experience, please leave us a comment below.

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