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Knuckle-Cracking Is Okay (Your Mother Was Wrong)

February 9, 2012

On a recent Fox News show I was brought on to talk about the effects of cracking your knuckles, whether we are talking about your fingers or toes.

If you think about it, this is kind of a hot topic since conventional wisdom (your mother) says that cracking your knuckles is bad.

So why do people think that cracking your knuckles is bad? The reason that people think it is bad is based upon two concerns: one, you’ll get arthritis and two your knuckles will swell.

When it comes to getting arthritis, the science just isn’t there. We’ve tried to look at this issue from both sides, following hundreds of people who crack their knuckles to see if they develop arthritis later in life and looking at those who have arthritis to see if they cracked their knuckles.

None of the studies make any kind of conclusive connection.

Cracking Your Knuckles Causes Swelling

In regards to making your joints swell, now, there is some truth to this. What happens when you crack your knuckles is you are forcing air out of the fluid in your joints. That’s the popping noise you hear.

The reason most people crack their knuckles is because it feels good because you are actually making room in your knuckles, so you are relieving negative pressure. Any time you relieve pressure, it feels good.

However, crack your knuckles enough time and you will experience some inflammation and swelling, making it difficult to remove a ring from your finger.

Cracking Joints and Chiropractors

What’s interesting about the  idea that knuckle cracking leads to arthritis is that chiropractors pop your joints…whether in your back or neck. Why aren’t we concerned that this might lead to arthritis?

Well, maybe your mother does believe that a visit to the chiropractor is equivalent to getting arthritis, but  trust me, chiropractors know what they are doing. For every pop in the back and crick in the neck adjusted out of your body, you will be feeling better both physically and mentally since you know you won’t be getting arthritis.

The work of a chiropractor will help align  your joints and bones, but again, you can suffer from inflammation and swelling, but that’s it. A few ibuprofen and you’ll be fine in a day.

When Knuckle-Cracking Is Bad

About the only time that cracking your knuckles is bad is when it becomes an addictive habit. You can develop some pretty bizarre ways to crack your knuckles, and while that may get you noticed on YouTube, it’s pretty disgusting. Don’t do it when you have company.

The noise enough can make your company’s skin crawl.

Dr. Rick Lehman is a distinguished orthopedic surgeon in St. Louis, Missouri and an articular cartilage reconstruction pioneer. He owns U. S. Sports Medicine in Kirkwood, MO, and LehmanHealth. Learn more about Dr. Rick.

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