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Is It Hazardous to Crack Your Knuckles?
Q: My mom always tells me that cracking my knuckles will give me arthritis. My teacher told me that isn't true. I don't know who to believe. Is it true or is my mom just mad because it annoys her? Does it make your knuckles any bigger? (I've been wondering that for a long time.)
A: Knuckles (joints in our hands) crack when pressure is applied to them. Changes in the joint fluid cause a gas bubble to form and then pop, producing the sound we hear.
Does cracking your knuckles cause arthritis? I do not have the definitive answer, as not many people have studied this frequently asked question. Your mom and your teacher are probably both right. To my knowledge, it has never been scientifically proven that knuckle-cracking causes arthritis.
Many people argue that cracking knuckles causes our joints to move in ways they were not designed, putting extra stress on cartilage or ligaments. One study reported a higher incidence of hand swelling and lower grip strength in people who admitted to being habitual knuckle crackers.
So, should you crack your knuckles? Hard to say. It may make your knuckles bigger or it may cause your hand to seem weaker. It might cause arthritis or it might not. Either way, it definitely annoys many people. Although it may feel good, it does not clearly do anything good, so it's probably a habit worth breaking.
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.