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Healthy Balance

Doctor-Approved: Cracking Knuckles Doesn’t Cause Arthritis

woman cracking her knuckles
Cracking your knuckles is a common habit that is more annoying than harmful.

Nicole Deal, MD, a specialist in hand surgery at the UVA Hand Center, helped me out. She confirmed that cracking your knuckles doesn’t cause arthritis or make your knuckles big. That cracking sound you hear is just air bubbles in between your joints.

Snap, Crackle, Pop Your Knuckles

So, what exactly happens when you crack your knuckles? Air and gases escape the fluids that lubricate your joints in the form of bubbles. Then when you stretch the joint, you get the satisfying “pop” or release of the bubble.

To crack the same knuckle again, you have to wait until the gases return in between the joints. This works the same for all joints in the body.

Why was there a big fuss over cracking knuckles? Nobody is sure why or how this became a concern. But no evidence shows harm to the joints. Maybe this myth started because nobody knew what caused arthritis?

The True Cause of Pain & Swelling with Arthritis

Osteoarthritis, or what most people refer to as arthritis, happens when the cartilage breaks down on the surface of the bone. Joints are supposed to be smooth and glide together, but over time, rough spots appear. Arthritis occurs when you have rough spots on top of rough spots. Once you have it, it continues to get worse.

Diagnosing arthritis requires identifying your symptoms. X-rays can show loss of cartilage, bone spurs or even bone rubbing against bone.

What to Do if You Have Arthritis

Deal recommends you stay active and maintain a healthy diet and weight to manage arthritis. At home, enjoy a paraffin bath. The warm wax limbers the tissues and allows mobility in the joints.

Use medical intervention when needed, Deal advises.

You can manage arthritis pain with physical or hand therapy, finger splints and by modifying your activity. Medication options include cortisone shots or anti-inflammatory medications.

If needed, surgery can help. Depending on where you have arthritis, knuckle replacements or joint fusions can successfully relieve symptoms. Surgery even prevents the treated area from developing arthritis again.

Hand Center Treatment

Access on-site X-rays, therapies and injections all within the same appointment. Call the Hand Center if you’re struggling with arthritis.

Prevent Arthritis Pain

To prevent osteoarthritis, exercise and eat healthy. It’s normal wear-and-tear activities that damage the joints, causing arthritis. Joint-friendly exercises or using a pool are recommended to avoid damage or making it worse.

The tricky question: If you have arthritis, does cracking your knuckles make it worse? Deal says yes. Knuckle-cracking can increase any inflammation, pain and discomfort you experience due to osteoarthritis.

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