We all have come across the traditional belief that cracking your knuckles can result in suffering from arthritis when we get older. Similar to this, there are many more such misunderstood and obscure theories related to popping your knuckles. Some of them state that arthritis can be due to joint inflammation which many of us do suffer from, while some think it is due to erosion of Synovial Fluid. But what actually is the reason behind it?
1. How Do Our Knuckles Pop?
If you are among the habitual knuckle crackers, then you would surely love to know the science behind these popping sounds.
1.1 Synovial Joints
So we all know for a fact that an average human skeleton has 206 bones. But we also know that bones are hard structures that cannot be bent. Then how do we bend our bodies? This is where our Synovial Joints come to the rescue. These are the joints that let us perform our basic functions and activities.
1.2 Synovial Fluid
To reduce the friction produced, the surface of these joints is covered with a smooth and strong layer of articular cartilage. Also to avoid these bones from rubbing against each other, a soft cushion-like fluid is present between them. This fluid is called Synovial Fluid.
1.3 How Do My Knuckles Pop?
So when you bend these Synovial joints to get that popping sound. You are unintentionally increasing the gap between the two bones. That can be your fingers, neck, toes, or anywhere. Those gaps create low-pressure zones where gases in the fluid form into bubbles.
Then when you pop it, the gas bubbles dissolve back into the fluid after some time. That’s the reason you aren’t able to pop the same joint twice at the same time. It takes time to get those gases back into the fluid.
2. Does Popping Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis?
There is a well-known researcher called Dr. Donald L Unger who devoted 50 years of his life to answering this question. In his childhood, he was told by many the same thing. So, to test its credibility, he started popping the knuckles of one hand, while the other was untouched.
Throughout this experiment, it is estimated that he cracked his knuckles about 36,500 times. After 5 decades, he finally concluded that none of his hands had any kind of symptoms related to arthritis. He went on to win the Nobel Prize for this discovery.
2. What Are the Serious Concerns Related to It?
If you are continuously cracking your knuckles, there can be some serious concerns related to it. Let’s examine if all are related to knuckle cracking.
It occurs when your Synovial fluid wears down. Any orthopaedic surgeon you visit would say that if an individual suffering from Osteoarthritis places repeated stress on a joint i.e. keeps cracking his knuckles. Then it can worsen their condition. It normally damages joints in your hand, hips, knee, and spine.
3.1.1 How to prevent it?
- Don’t pop your knuckles much after surgery, as they need time to heal. If it isn’t able to heal correctly, then surgery won’t be a success.
- You need to exercise more, as placing more weight on joints like your spine prevents it from worsening.
- There are special devices that can help you reduce the strain you place on your joints.
3.2 Rheumatoid Arthritis
It is an autoimmune disease where your immune system starts attacking the healthy cells in your body. As it fails to differentiate between foreign cells and your cells. This causes inflammation in joints. Researchers haven’t been able to discover what triggers our immune system to do this.
So we can’t say that cracking your knuckles can cause such a thing to happen.
3.3 Juvenile Arthritis
This is also an autoimmune disease that is found in children below 16 years of age. Although its correct cause is still unknown. However, there are certain symptoms that people often associate to be a result of knuckle cracking.
It causes pain and swelling in your joints. There are chances for it to cause stiffness in joints too.
The use of Synovial bones and the importance of the fluid we have in between them called Synovial fluid. We also understood why it is not possible to pop our knuckles back-to-back.
Then we addressed the elephant in the room, which brought Dr. Donald L. Unger’s 50-year-long experiment into the light. But as the saying goes ‘too much of anything is good for nothing’. Knuckle cracking can give us some sort of satisfaction, but too much of it can also cause Osteoarthritis. This happens when the Synovial Fluid wears down and causes the risk of producing more friction than required between bones.
I hope this was able to do its job of conveying the issue related to knuckle cracking and whether can it turn serious or not.
5.1. How can I avoid having arthritis?
Now to prevent it, you need to make sure that while trying to pop your knuckles, you do it correctly. It shouldn’t cause pain when you do it and if it does, then you must have bent the Synovial bone incorrectly.
Also try not to do it too frequently, as just like any other part of our body it also needs time to recover.
5.2. Is it possible that cracking your knuckles can cause Rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease, where your immune system begins to attack your tissues. Although it is related to inflating joints. But what triggers is yet to be discovered. So we can’t say that cracking your joints can cause Rheumatoid arthritis.