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Fingers General

Snap, Crackle, Pop: The Truth About Knuckle Cracking Your Parents Didn’t Want You to Know

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Straight to the point: Knuckle cracking is probably not as bad as they say, and that’s the general consensus among researchers as of today.

Yes, other people might still cringe and yell, “Stop doing that!” But the habit is probably not as detrimental to your joints and fingers as others would have you think. The rumors of the dangers of knuckle cracking are greatly exaggerated.

The possibilities that cracking your knuckles leads to arthritis and that it causes your joints to swell are most likely false myths, but there may be some truth to them. More research is needed, but as far as researchers have found at the present time, cracking your knuckles doesn’t signal the end of the world.

What Happens When You Crack Your Knuckles

To start with, many people may wonder: “Well, why do our knuckles crack anyway? What makes us feel the need to pop the joints?”

Basically, when you pop your knuckles, you’re popping a gas bubble. It’s similar to the sound of popping a balloon or bubble wrap.

When you stretch your joints, you release gas, and that gas forms a bubble in the lubricating synovial fluid between your joints. That bubble can then pop and collapse, either on its own or when you pop your joint intentionally.

That’s why you typically can’t crack a knuckle more than once. It takes about 20 minutes for that gas to return and form a bubble. (Bet you didn’t know that little fact, huh? We virtually saw the light go off in your head just now.)

In addition to causing arthritis, another myth is that knuckle cracking makes your knuckles larger. You know the one: “Don’t crack your knuckles, or you’ll never be able to wear a ring!” That hasn’t been found to be true either.

The Other Kind of Popping

The sound you hear when you intentionally crack your knuckles due to that bubble of gas is different than the popping you occasionally hear when you stand up from a seated position or crouch down to pick something up off the ground.

That popping, typically in your knees, ankles, or hips, may be the sound of tendons sliding between muscle or over the bones. That kind of sound could be related to osteoarthritis, which occurs when the lubrication between your joints begins to wear away, but it may happen in perfectly healthy joints as well.

Want to Hear More?

Bottom line: Although constantly cracking and popping your knuckles can annoy those around you, doing so is not that bad, and it has not been proven to lead to arthritis or create huge knuckles.

In fact, a Nobel-prize winning researcher, Donald Unger, made himself the subject of a case study in this regard. He popped the knuckles on one hand for 60 years, but not the other. In the end, he didn’t have any more arthritis in one hand than the other.

If your joints ache when they pop or you are concerned about your condition, however, you may wish to make an appointment to see Dr. Arora in West Bloomfield, Macomb, Warren, or Howell for an examination.

As for why you’re constantly cracking your knuckles as a nervous habit, well that’s a different discussion for another day.

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Fingers General

Is Knuckle Cracking Harmful?

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Lets begin by saying, before we say anything else, that if you crack your knuckles you are probably driving the people around you crazy. But is knuckle cracking harmful? Truthfully, its hard to say. The jury is still out.

What Mom Said

Your mother probably told you that cracking your knuckles would cause brain damage. That is not true. She may have also told you that it would cause you to develop arthritis in later life, and honestly, that theory has been debated to death. The conventional wisdom today is that it likely wont. But are those maddening clicks and pops anything more than an annoyance? Lets talk about your knuckles.

What are Knuckles?

Your knuckles are the joints in your fingers (and also in your toes, for that matter) that are located where the bones meet. They contain a liquid, synovial fluid, that lubricates them. Occasionally, a gas bubble occurs in the synovial fluid, and when the joint moves in a certain way, that bubble bursts and makes a cracking or popping sound.

Now, about arthritis. It is a common problem in older adults. In fact, most people over the age of 65 have at least some form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common form, and it is caused by ordinary wear and tear on your joints. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is due to joint inflammation, and it can ultimately cause joint deformity and loss of function.

Is There a Connection?

The current research suggests that there is no connection between cracking your knuckles and developing arthritis. On the other hand, think about what we just said about wear and tear. Constant knuckle cracking is almost certainly going to cause wear and tear on the joints. Whether it is sufficient to cause arthritis is still up for debate. It doesnt seem unreasonable to think that prolonged knuckle cracking could lead to trouble in the joints, but how much does it take? Also, many people develop arthritis, and many people crack their knuckles. What is cause, and what is effect? Or is there any correlation at all? No one really knows.

A Study

In 1975, Drs. Robert and Stuart Swezey studied 28 nursing home residents who may or may not have cracked their knuckles – most of them couldnt remember. They x-rayed the subjects hands, and decided that there was no link between arthritis and knuckle cracking. Heres the thing, though – how do you determine cause and effect when your subjects cant even remember if they cracked their knuckles?

Another study, possibly more reliable, was published in the Annals of Rheumatic Disease. It evaluated a group of 300 known knuckle crackers. None of them developed arthritis. They did, however, experience less strength in their hands, and were more likely to have swelling in the hands. Again, though, whether knuckle cracking caused hand problems, or people with hand problems were more likely to crack their knuckles was left open to interpretation.

The Final Word

Dont crack your knuckles. It might not make a bit of difference, according to studies. But why not err on the side of caution?

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Dr. Aroras office from my first call to schedule my appointment was friendly. Walking in the first day, I felt like I was in a nice atmosphere. Dr. Arora was EXCELLENT in taking great care of my hand injury. He was gentle and very understanding to the concerns I had about my hand. His expertise was admirable and I would recommend anyone with an injury to their hand to his office to be under his care. Because of him, I have healed faster than expected and will make an 100% recovery! Thank you Dr.

Jackie S.

I first thought I was going to have to have painful injections or surgery, but Dr. Arora suggested physical therapy may do the trick. I was doubtful, but I agreed to do it. Now, my pain is gone, and with the help of an ergonomic keyboard at work to keep my hands in the correct position, I am virtually pain free. The therapy strengthened my wrists and shoulders, and built more flexibility into my wrists.

Jerry T.

My experience with this doctor was positive from the outset. Dr. Arora was kind and spent a great deal of time with me. Staff was friendly. The office was nice and bright.

Ariel G.

Very friendly and helpful Great staff!!! Doctor Arora was very professional and did great work. I was very happy with everything!

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