I was talking to a good friend the other day. Yes, he is also a doctor, and when doctors get together all we ever talk about 90 percent of the time is medicine. I was asked if knuckle cracking was bad, and I honestly had no idea. So, what do we do? We look at the medical studies to find an answer.
I thought I would spend a whole night looking through multiple medical journals, but only a few had published studies concerning knuckle cracking. And most of them were before the year 2000. Anyhow, I found a few interesting studies.
The first study is the most recent and published in The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine in 2011 by researchers at the National Naval Medical Center in Maryland. In this study, radiologists contacted 215 patients who recently had an x-ray of the right hand within the last five years. Of those in the study, 135 patients had osteoarthritis, or abnormal bone growth, and 80 did not. All patients were asked how often they cracked their knuckles and for how long. They found that cracking knuckles was not correlated with osteoarthritis in the hands.
To further support this fact, a letter to the editor in the Journal of Rheumatology reviewed two additional studies to support the notion that cracking knuckles does not cause harm.
In the first, a survey was sent to 74 people who cracked their knuckles for an average of 35 years and to 226 who didn’t. They were then asked if they had any hand or joint problems. They found that no significant difference occurred between the two groups.
Finally, a smaller study looked at x-rays of 13 knuckle crackers and 15 non-crackers and found no significant difference between the two groups.
Although grandma has been telling you to stop cracking your knuckles, you now know that the behavior is not likely to cause osteoarthritis. However, these studies do not comment if knuckle cracking damages cartilage, ligaments or tendons that surround the joints in your hands. Further, knuckle cracking is a habit-related behavior that may be due to underlying nervousness or anxiety. If you crack your knuckles for tension relief, you are probably okay. But if it’s a habit, you may want to find other ways to better handle your anxiety. (Clearing my throat… Exercise!)
Journal of Rheumatology: “Cracking the Cracked Knuckle” A Medical Student’s Take:” Gaetano, 2011.