In my opinion, there is no feeling in the world quite as joyful as a good knuckle crack. It even beats out the bliss of someone else folding your laundry, mom jeans that don’t give you front-butt, and yes, even the secret thrill of picking your nose.
But buzzkills love to try and suck the joy out my knuckle-cracking habit by telling me things like, “It will give you arthritis!” “You’re hurting your joints!” “How could that NOT hurt?”
So, I decided to take these fear-mongering theories to Alejandro Badia, MD, board-certified hand and upper extremity orthopedic surgeon with Badia Hand to Shoulder Center in FL, and Marina Mangano, DC, founder of Chiro Yoga Flow, to learn once and for all: Is cracking your knuckles bad for you?
First, the basics of what’s actually going down when you crack your knuckles. According to a 2015 study, the popping sound is caused by the formation of bubbles that form in the fluid around the joint (called “synovial fluid”). Dr. Badia explains that when you pull or weirdly bend your fingers these bubbles—which are primarily made of nitrogen— literally pop. “This is no big deal. The minuscule amount of nitrogen simply goes into your blood stream and dissolves back into fluid,” explains Mangano. So, even if it sounds like bones or breaking or damage is being done to the joint, it’s just these little bubbles collapsing.
And despite what your grandma says, both experts agree that cracking your knuckles does not cause arthritis (phew). According to Dr. Badia, there is no long-term research showing that cracking your knuckles causes arthritis or other joint issues. “I suspect that this myth stems from the fact that the fingers are usually the first body part affected by arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. But neither has any connection to how much you crack your knuckles,” adds Mangano. (However, if your popping habit becomes painful, see a healthcare provider or chiropractor, because painful cracking can be a sign something else is up with your knuckle joints.)
However, just because cracking your knuckles isn’t bad for you don’t necessarily mean you should do it. “Cracking your knuckles is just a useless habit to pass the time, there’s no benefit to it,” says Dr. Badia. If you’re committed to breaking the habit, simply stretching, moving, and wiggling your hands, fingers, and arms regularly can help. “Our fingers, like the rest of our bodies, are meant to move. So moving or stretching our digits is a good thing. Sometimes this might result in an accidental crack, but it can help sooth the impulse,” he says.
Basically, channel your inner cheerleader, because spirit fingers have function. Or, just keep up your occasional crack—because hey, these are stressful times we’re living in, so what’s a joy-inducing crack every now and then?
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