Obsessive knuckle-crackers are probably familiar with the old warning: keep up the noisy habit, and you’ll get arthritis someday. If you’re like most, though, the thought of aching joints hasn’t stopped you from cracking away, however guiltily.
Can cracking your joints really give you chronic osteoarthritis? Or is it just a myth?
Turns out all that finger-wagging isn’t what it’s cracked up to be (sorry) – although there’s plenty of speculation about how one could fall victim to the condition. It’s sometimes said that the amount of force people apply to their knuckles could strain tendons. Others have noted that the mechanism behind the cracking noise – brought on by a rapid collapse of gaseous bubbles in between your joints into lots of smaller bubbles – isn’t unlike the cavitation that puts wear and tear on ship propellers.
But it’s only recently that we’ve seen compelling research on knuckle-cracking. Last year, a team of Defense Department-funded researchers took a look at patients who’d had hand X-rays within the past five years. Those whose scans confirmed the presence of arthritis got sorted into one group, and those without arthritis got put in another. When each group was asked about knuckle-cracking habits, it actually turned out that those who didn’t crack their knuckles had slightly greater rates of arthritis (18.1 percent versus 21.5 percent). Other interesting results: women were found to crack their knuckles less often than men. And the most commonly cracked joints? The proximal IP joint (the knuckle in the middle of your finger that lets you bend it in half), followed by the MCP joint (the knuckle that connects your finger to your palm).
The researchers concluded that having a history of knuckle-cracking had no correlation with osteoarthritis – even after accounting for people’s cumulative exposure to the habit.
So, compulsive joint-manipul