Some people crack their knuckles by pulling the tip of each finger one at a time until they hear a crack. Others make a tight fist or bend their fingers backwards away from the hand, cracking the lot at once. If you are one of those people who sits and cracks your knuckles while others wince, at some point somebody is bound to have told you that cracking your joints gives you arthritis.
For some it’s a nervous habit; for others the sensation brings relief. Depending on which research you read, between 25 % and 54% of people do it, with men more likely to do so than women.
Knuckle poppers, rejoice: cracking your knuckles isn’t bad for you! Here’s what actually happens when you crack your knuckles: there’s nitrogen hanging out in your joints. When there’s a sudden change in how your joints are positioned, like when you stretch in the morning, the gas is released, which makes that popping sound you hear. It’s the fast movement that’s key; if you tried to crack your knuckles with slow movements, it wouldn’t work.
So is this bad for your joints? Almost certainly not, he assures. Multiple studies have looked into the prevalence of “crackers” among large groups of osteoarthritis patients. They found no evidence that finger pullers and poppers are more likely to suffer from arthritis than those who don’t crack their knuckles.
Bottom line: Even if knuckle cracking doesn’t cause arthritis, there’s still good reason to let go of the habit. Chronic knuckle-crackers were more likely to have swollen hands and reduced grip strength. And there are at least two published reports of injuries suffered while people were trying to crack their knuckles.