Knuckle-Cracking: Good? Bad? How do I stop?
June 6, 2005 4:32 PM   Subscribe

As far as my Google-fu will take me, knuckle cracking is "probably not" associated with arthritis, and "maybe bad for other reasons" over long periods of time. I'm addicted to cracking my knuckles, and I'd like to get more info on the following: 1. Any new or particularly informative studies on the subject? All I can seem to find are medical studies using ridiculously few numbers of people. 2. Any more info on the non-arthritis side effects of knuckle cracking? 3. How on earth do I stop? My hands hurt when I don't crack them, and I do it unconsciously in movie theaters, operas, everywhere. Toes too.
posted by sirion to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

(I realize those may not answer your specific questions, but include them here for coverage.)
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:45 PM on June 6, 2005

Heh. I've been called a freak my whole life because I crack every joint in my body, including ones you probably didn't know exist. For example, I crack my knees, wrists, and even the place where my ribs meet my chest bone. Besides weirdly bendable joints I've experienced no trouble so far. I think the belief that it causes arthritis comes from a misunderstanding of what is happening, i.e., that bone is contacting bone, whereas in reality the sound comes from popping nitrogen bubbles suspended in fluid.
posted by Astragalus at 4:54 PM on June 6, 2005

I suspect it's difficult to put together a large-scale study for this behavior so the clinical literature is slim. The best I could find was an abstract for a study of 300 patients in PubMed that I'll post here (hopefully without repercussions).

Effect of habitual knuckle cracking on hand function.

Castellanos J, Axelrod D.

Department of Internal Medicine, Mount Carmel Mercy Hospital, Detroit, Michigan 48235.

The relation of habitual knuckle cracking to osteoarthrosis with functional impairment of the hand has long been considered an old wives' tale without experimental support. The mechanical sequelae of knuckle cracking have been shown to produce the rapid release of energy in the form of sudden vibratory energy, much like the forces responsible for the destruction of hydraulic blades and ship propellers. To investigate the relation of habitual knuckle cracking to hand function 300 consecutive patients aged 45 years or above and without evidence of neuromuscular, inflammatory, or malignant disease were evaluated for the presence of habitual knuckle cracking and hand arthritis/dysfunction. The age and sex distribution of the patients (74 habitual knuckle crackers, 226 non-knuckle crackers) was similar. There was no increased preponderance of arthritis of the hand in either group; however, habitual knuckle crackers were more likely to have hand swelling and lower grip strength. Habitual knuckle cracking was associated with manual labour, biting of the nails, smoking, and drinking alcohol. It is concluded that habitual knuckle cracking results in functional hand impairment.

So no clinical arthritis but excessive knuckle cracking *can* result in sore, swollen knuckles.
posted by junesix at 5:36 PM on June 6, 2005

From the doctor perspective (note, not me), my rheumatologist says joint popping is safe and causes no damage whatsoever. I tend to trust her since she is the current President of the American College of Rheumatology.
posted by karmaville at 8:51 PM on June 6, 2005

I'm damn noisy. Spine, hips, wrists, ankles, toes, shoulders, knuckles, and every once in a while, my sternum goes off with a sound like a tire blowing out. I've never noticed any sort of problems related to this - usually I am more flexible and less achy after everything has popped itself. It feels good!

My rationalization for this: chiropractors pop one's spine, and that's okay, right? So everywhere else cracking is normal.

I am absolutely not any kind of medical professional. I just inhabit a body that often sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies stuck in a megaphone.
posted by cmyk at 12:09 AM on June 7, 2005

Noone has figured out how to *stop*? :)
posted by sirion at 5:13 PM on June 7, 2005

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