The argument you’ve probably heard somewhere along the line is cracking your knuckles causes arthritis. For a number of years this sounded logical to me and that’s what I told patients. Here was my reasoning. Popping your knuckles pulls on your tendons (the structures that connect the muscle to the bone). Too much stretching and the tendon loses some of its elasticity and as a result its ability to help in stabilizing the joint. A laxed or unstable joint is more likely to form osteoarthritis, bone arthritis. Good argument … but incorrect.
The study which blows my old argument out of the water was conducted by a California physician over decades. He cracked his knuckles on his right hand for decades but not his left. He took x-rays of both hands over the years and there was no difference in the level of arthritis in either hand. I thought his self experimentation was cool if for no other reason I admire the self discipline this guy displayed in his quest to find an answer. There was a larger more conventional study done that arrived at the same conclusion.
There is an old study from 1990 that points to some ill-effects of popping your knuckles. The study involved over 200 people which is a decent sampling size considering the topic. The study found a greater instance of hand swelling along with a diminishment of grip strength in those people who regularly cracked their knuckles.
I’ll finish up this series on joint noises next time.
Cracking Knuckles Part 1: here