To me, it is one of the most annoying habits a person can have: knuckle-cracking. Two of my boys do it frequently and I find myself continually telling them to kick that habit for fear of the long-term effects it might have on their joints. After all, when you crack your knuckles, you are at an increased risk of developing arthritis, right?
While knuckle-cracking is a highly prevalent habit among many, the research between this habit and arthritis is not as great. Dr. Peter Bonafede, medical director of the Providence Arthritis Center at Providence Portland Medical Center in Oregon, suggests that there is “likely not” a link between the cracking of one’s knuckles and later development of arthritis.
“While the arthritis connection may be an old wives’ tale, cracking your knuckles can hurt your hand in other ways, and there is no benefit to it,” said Dr. Bonafede. Kids typically develop this annoying habit because they like the way it sounds. That cracking noise heard when one cracks his knuckles is a result of a change in the synovial fluid, which is the lubricant that bathes the joints.
“When finger bones are suddenly stretched apart, the space between the joints widens and an air bubble forms in the synovial fluid. This bubble quickly bursts and makes a sharp sound,” noted Dr. Bonafede.
It is not natural for people to repeatedly stretch the ligaments of their finger joints. Certain medical studies have highlighted cases of patients who injured their hands from constant knuckle-cracking. One individual had over-stretched his ligaments and dislocated his fingers. Another patient had partially torn the ligament in her thumb.
In 1990, research was done through observation of hand function in 200 adults, age 45 and above. Although the contributing researcher could not find a greater tendency towards the development of arthritis in the 74 candidates who were habitual knuckle-crackers, he did discover that they had more conditions of swollen hands and reduced strength in their hands.