Pressing your joints, especially knuckles, until you hear them pop is something everyone has indulged in at some point in their lives. Many of you may have been cautioned against it by the elders in the family, citing the risk of arthritis. However, medical research has dispelled this traditional belief that cracking one’s joints can lead to arthritis as just another old wives’ tale. In short, cracking joints and arthritis have no connection! Here’s why:
Cracking of Joints Does Not Cause Arthritis
Hearing your joints let out a loud pop can be a tad unsettling. In a time when medical science still was not developed enough to establish the cause and effect link between every minute action of the human body, co-relating cracking of joints to arthritis and other painful joint conditions was an easy assumption to make.
However, researchers have now studied the tendency of popping of knuckle and other joints, known as crepitus in medical terms, long enough to conclude with certainty that the action is in no way linked to arthritis. A study on ‘crepitus and risk for hand osteoarthritis’ found that the risk of arthritis in knuckle crackers was no higher than that for non-crackers. The same is true for other joints such as knees, hips, or elbows.
What Causes the Popping Sound in the Joints?
Crepitus or the popping sounds caused by bending your joints at a particular angle is caused by the release of tiny bubbles of gas that get accumulated slowly in synovial fluid – the fluid surrounding the joints. A sudden pull in the joints results in the release of these gas bubbles, and you hear a pop.
This also explains why your joints pop more loudly on some days than others. Crepitus is a harmless condition that neither signals an underlying medical condition such as arthritis nor can lead to it. However, if the cracking happens involuntarily and is accompanied by pain, it could be a sign of abnormalities in the joint structures such as an injured ligament or loose cartilage.
People who have arthritis, as well as other joint problems such as tendinitis or bursitis, may notice cracking sounds due to a snap in the swollen or irregular tissue structures. In short, cracking sounds, when accompanied by pain, could be a symptom of arthritis but not a cause.
Does that Mean You Can Indulge in this Habit as You Like?
Well, cracking your knuckles as an act of relaxation once in a while is harmless. However, if you are a habitual joint cracker, you may want to make a conscious effort to rein in your tendency to pull and tug at your joints. A medical study comparing hand movements of people who cracked their knuckles with those who didn’t found that frequent knuckle crackers can be at risk of developing swelling in their hands and a weaker grip. Similarly, excessive cracking can compromise the optimum function of all other joints in the long run. It is also considered a nervous habit, much like biting nails or shaking legs.
Like with everything else in life, moderation is the key when it comes to your joint cracking tendencies too. In any case, it won’t give you arthritis, of that you can be sure.