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Does Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis?

April 1, 2011

The answer to this old myth is … NO.  You would think that popping your knuckles would eventually cause so much repetitive trauma that it would lead to arthritis, but there have been studies done and there is no correlation between cracking your knuckles and getting arthritis.


So what causes the “popping” sound?

Your knuckles are joints covered by a capsule (the joint capsule). Within this capsule there is fluid, which acts as a lubricant and also contains nutrients for the adjacent bone surfaces.  A variety of gases are continuously dissolved in this fluid.  When one cracks a knuckle, the stretching of the capsule lowers the pressure inside the joint and creates a vacuum, which is filled by the gas previously dissolved in the fluid. This creates a “bubble” which then bursts producing the “popping” or “cracking” sound. It takes a while until these gases are re-dissolved in the fluid, which explains why knuckles cannot be “re-cracked” immediately.

Are there any side effects to cracking knuckles?

There is no evidence that cracking knuckles causes arthritis. However, there are studies associating knuckle cracking with injury of the ligaments surrounding the joint or dislocation of the tendons.

What causes arthritis?

There are different kinds of arthritis with the major categories being two: The inflammatory type such as rheumatoid arthritis and the degenerative type best known as osteoarthritis (wear and tear).  The causes for either are not well known and research focuses on explaining the mechanisms leading to these diseases.  For the inflammatory arthritis an unknown exposure to environmental stimuli is considered possible. For the “wear and tear arthritis” instead, aging and excessive mechanical stress may play a role in accelerating the damage in the joints.


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