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Can Cracking My Knuckles Really Cause Arthritis?

Brennen Gulden, OTR/L
ACMC-Willmar
Occupational Hand Therapy

You may have heard that cracking your knuckles can cause arthritis. But that's a myth. Cracking your knuckles isn't exactly good for you—though it may feel good. If it's is as natural to you as breathing, you may want to consider ditching the habit—especially if it produces pain.

What Happens When I Crack My Knuckles?

Remember that chapter on bones from that anatomy class you took in high school? Here's a quick recap. A joint is the point where two or more bones meet. Ligaments connect the bones to one another and a joint capsule surrounds it. Joint capsules have natural lubricants to help joints move smoothly. When you crack your knuckles, you pull the joint apart and expand the joint capsule. It forces gasses to release, resulting in that satisfying pop sound you hear when you've cracked your knuckles.

The reason why cracking your knuckles feels good is because it stretches the joint and stimulates the nerve endings. Repetitive and intentional joint cracking won't cause cartilage damage or arthritis, but it may lead to other serious issues like instability within the joint and a loss of grip strength or hand function. If you've ever cracked your knuckles and felt pain, it could indicate loose cartilage or injured ligaments.

Cracking your knuckles can become a habit, and habits can be hard to break. My best advice is to find another go to when you want to crack your knuckles. It could be twiddling a pencil or coin between your fingers or talking a walk. Find something—that works for you—to keep your hands busy.

Get a grip on your knuckle-cracking once and for all.