Think back… you are an adolescent, and it is the first time you discovered that if you bend your fingers in a specific direction, they will pop. It is a new and exciting feeling, and now you want to do it more!
Before you know it, you are doing it at school, around the house, playing sports, playing video games, when you get nervous and before you go to bed.
One day, a parent or grandparent catches you doing this; they whack you on the wrist and say, “don’t crack your knuckles! That will give you arthritis”.
Is this true? Is cracking your knuckles bad for you? Will it give you arthritis?
What Is Happening When you Crack Your Knuckles?
When your knuckles crack, it is the same thing that happens when a Chiropractor adjusts you if you have neck pain or low back pain.
Each finger has three bones in it, except your thumb, which only has two. Joints connect these bones, and the joints in your fingers are called synovial joints.
A thick tissue capsule surrounds synovial joints, and they contain something called synovial fluid. Synovial fluid has many of the nutrients that your bones need to stay healthy, and through the movement of those joints, the fluid transfers nutrients to the surrounding bones of the joint.
When your joints stretch, it changes the pressure within the synovial fluid. When the joint is stretched enough, a bubble within the synovial fluid forms, which causes a popping sound. This popping sound has a big fancy name to it called tribonucleation and has been studied in MRIs!
You can see in the video below, which is a video MRI of a finger joint being adjusted. As the finger is pulled, you can see a small, dark circle form within the joint of the finger. This dark circle is the bubble formation that would cause the audible pop associated with a chiropractic adjustment or cracking your knuckles.
So Is It Safe To Crack My Knuckles?
The honest answer to this question lies in the details.
Sometimes adjusting the joints in your fingers can be very beneficial. For those who have ever jammed their fingers playing sports, adjusting the jammed finger helps immensely!
Cracking your knuckles performs the same act as having your neck or back adjusted by a Chiropractor, and if you injured a finger, that adjustment could be very beneficial.
But here is the question...how frequently does the average person crack their knuckles? If you are a “knuckle cracker,” do you only crack your knuckles once per day and only up to three times a week? Or do you do as frequently as you can re-create that sound and then repeat it the following day?
Thus far in my career, the most I have ever seen a patient in a week is three appointments in one week. This only occurs when someone is in EXTREME pain.
Research shows us that if we perform this action too much, we can decrease the ligaments’ elasticity that attaches to our fingers.
What does that mean? If you stretch an elastic band too many times, it will stop to return to its natural shape.
So if we crack our knuckles too frequently, every day, for years on end, we can start to decrease the elasticity of our joints, which can increase their risk of future injury. The reduced elasticity will not necessarily lead to arthritis specifically, but it can lead to some form of future discomfort.
So does cracking your knuckles give your hands arthritis?
The action of cracking your knuckles once will not give you arthritis or damage your hands.
However, if you crack your knuckles numerous times a day, every day for 18 years, you can begin to reduce the elasticity of the ligaments in your hands which could lead to some form of future discomfort.
If you are currently experiencing low back pain, neck pain or shoulder pain, book an appointment with E3 Chiropractic + Wellness today! We help anyone in Saskatoon get free from their pain and help your bodies become stronger and more resilient so that you can enjoy the activities you love! Click HERE to book an appointment today!