Does knuckle cracking lead to arthritis of the fingers?

arthritisThis is one of the great old wive’s tales that knuckle cracking leads to arthritis and in short the answer is NO!

“The main serious consequence of knuckle cracking would appear to be its annoying effect on the observer.”

When I was at chiropractic college I had to do something that was called an ‘outreach event’ these were events that brought chiropractic into the community… and was mandatory. On one such event myself and a few others had to talk to a group of children around the age of 7 about chiropractic and what it involved; the discussion got on to the ‘cracking’ of one’s joints (something I was actually trying to avoid, as I knew that the second I mentioned it all of the kids would start clicking their fingers!). However doing a job such as mine it is a subject that will inevitably come up, unsurprisingly the second we mentioned it they started a tiny orchestra of clicks and crunches… was actually quite melodic! Anyway one of the teachers turned round to me and said to me shaking her head, with the obvious intention of also addressing the whole class as well ‘Yes, but you shouldn’t do it should you? As it’s bad for you and will give you arthritis!’ To which I replied ‘No, it’s not that bad and it won’t give you arthritis, you shouldn’t do it too much but generally cracking your joints is fine.’ and for some reason I got into trouble for that! The point was that I wasn’t prepared to lie to them and to be honest if your going to bring a class of children to a chiropractic college then at least do your research.

While joint popping may not cause arthritis, it is not completely risk-free. Joints are delicate structures and although there is no proved link between cracking joins and arthritis people can cause the joints to inflame if clicked too regularly. There have been some studies that suggest ligament damage but these appear to be quite weak studies that don’t take into account other causes for damaged ligaments. I would generally conclude that as long as you’re not wrenching the joint and forcing it repeatedly to crack and that you only do it when you really feel like the joint is restricted and ‘wants’ to crack then you should be fine. If the joints to hurt or swell after clicking then just apply an ice pack, wrapped in a thin tea-towel for 10 to 15 mins a couple of times until the swelling goes.

On the positive side, there is evidence of increased mobility in joints right after popping. When joints are manipulated, this stimulates the Golgi tendon organs (a set of nerve endings involved in the sense of motion), which then relaxes the muscles surrounding the joint.

This is part of the reason why people report feeling “loose” and invigorated after leaving the chiropractor’s office, where cavitation (the formation of an empty space within a solid object or body) is induced as part of the treatment. The back, knees, elbows, and all other movable joints are subject to the same kind of manipulation as knuckles.

Take care of your joints

The most important thing to know about joint health is that prevention is better than treatment. Achieving and maintaining an appropriate body weight helps to lessen pressure on the joints and is best achieved by engaging in regular, low-impact exercise so as to minimize the risk of injury, while strengthening muscles to better support the joints and act as a shock absorber.


Here’s an excerpt from an article where a man cracked the fingers on one hand only for 50 years and then compared the results:

Does knuckle cracking lead to arthritis of the fingers?

During the author’s childhood, various renowned authorities (his mother, several aunts, and, later, his mother-in- law [personal communication]) informed him that cracking his knuckles would lead to arthritis of the fingers. To test the accuracy of this hypothesis, the following study was undertaken. For 50 years, the author cracked the knuckles of his left hand at least twice a day, leaving those on the right as a control. Thus, the knuckles on the left were cracked at least 36,500 times, while those on the right cracked rarely and spontaneously. At the end of the 50 years, the hands were compared for the presence of arthritis. There was no arthritis in either hand, and no apparent differences between the two hands. Knuckle cracking did not lead to arthritis after a 50-year controlled study by the one participant. While a larger group would be necessary to confirm this result, this preliminary investigation suggests a lack of correlation between knuckle cracking and the development of arthritis of the fingers. A search of the literature revealed only one previous paper on this subject, and the authors came to the same conclusion (Swezey RL. Swezey SE. The consequences of habitual knuckle cracking. West J Med 1973;122:377-9.). This result calls into question whether other parental beliefs, e.g., the importance of eating spinach, are also flawed. Further investigation is likely warranted. In conclusion, therc is no apparent relationship between knuckle cracking and the subsequent development of arthritis of the fingers. This study was done entirely ut the author’s expense, with no grants from any governmental or pharmaceutical source. Donald L. Unger, MD Thousand Oaks, CA click here for the full article

Peter Heale Chiropractor in Hitchin and LutonFrom the team at Heale's Chiropractic Clinics
Over 30 years of helping people in Hitchin and Luton and the surrounding areas of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire

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