Does Cracking Your Knuckles Really Cause Arthritis?
You’ve probably heard that cracking your knuckles causes arthritis. But is that the truth, or just a long-running myth? Read on to find out.
If you’ve made a habit of cracking your knuckles, you’ve probably had someone tell you to stop — that well-meaning friend or family member might have even warned you that habitual knuckle-cracking could cause arthritis.
But does cracking your knuckles really cause chronic problems with your joints? Let’s find out.
What Is Arthritis?
Below is a quick and simple explanation of the causes, symptoms, and treatments for arthritis. There are two main types of arthritis – rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis – and both have their own causes and treatments. Let’s briefly look at the key differences between these two conditions.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, and it’s also one of the most manageable forms of the condition. Below are some FAQs about this chronic joint issue.
What causes osteoarthritis? The primary factor that leads to the development of the condition is the gradual breakdown of the cartilage that separates two bones. As this cartilage weakens and thins out, people with osteoarthritis may deal with pain and discomfort that just doesn’t seem to go away.
What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis? Symptoms include joint pain, joint stiffness and achiness, a painful sensation when you put pressure on an affected joint, and chronic swelling around the affected area.
How is osteoarthritis diagnosed? In order to accurately diagnose a patient with osteoarthritis, a doctor typically uses one of two methods – an x-ray or MRI. Using either of these procedures, a doctor examines the affected areas in a patient’s body, all the while keeping an eye out for noticeable changes in the cartilage around a joint.
What are the treatments for osteoarthritis? Treatments include pain relief medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), as well as prescription painkillers. These drugs help those with osteoarthritis manage their aches and pains, but they can’t make osteoarthritis go away completely. Other treatment strategies for osteoarthritis include physical therapy and sometimes surgery, in more severe cases of the condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes joint inflammation and pain. Someone with rheumatoid arthritis experiences symptoms caused by an oversensitive immune system, which attacks healthy tissues and causes pain and discomfort. As above, below are some FAQs about this condition.
What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis? This type of arthritis looks noticeably different from osteoarthritis. It’s characterized by symptoms like tiredness, stiff joints, and tenderness around the affected areas. The parts of the body that rheumatoid arthritis typically affects include the fingers, toes, wrists, ankles, and hips.
Who’s at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis? People with rheumatoid arthritis tend to be at least middle-aged, and they often have a family history of the condition. In addition, being overweight seems to increase a person’s risk of developing this type of arthritis.
How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed and treated? Because it’s an autoimmune disease, diagnosis and treatment for rheumatoid arthritis look radically different from the process for osteoarthritis. Diagnosis typically starts with blood tests before moving on to imaging tests like an MRI or x-ray. Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis range from NSAIDs to steroids, to an entirely different class of medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). DMARDs may help to slow down the progression of the condition.
How Does Arthritis Affect Your Knuckles?
If you develop osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, you’re likely to experience symptoms in your hands. These symptoms are sometimes localized to your knuckles, which contain significant amounts of cartilage.
If arthritis is affecting your hands, here are some of the primary symptoms you might encounter.
Arthritis Can Cause Knuckle Pain
Even when it first starts developing, arthritis often causes pain in your knuckles. This pain may be at its worst after you use your hands for long periods of time. Activities like typing, cooking, and cleaning – all of which can be normal parts of everyday life – can all become very difficult and painful in cases of advanced arthritis.
The pain caused by arthritis tends to be on-and-off at first. You may notice a correlation between increased pain and certain activities, such as the ones listed above. However, knuckle pain from arthritis can be unpredictable. Sometimes, you might experience pain even after you haven’t moved your fingers in several hours.
When Are Arthritis Symptoms at Their Worst?
Arthritis in your fingers tends to cause the worst pain, swelling, and stiffness when you’ve either overused or underused your hands for a long time.
In the case of underuse: The main reason why your arthritis symptoms might get worse when you haven’t used your fingers in a while is because underuse makes your joints stiff. Stiffness often coexists with excessive swelling, and these two symptoms often make it harder to move your fingers without pain.
In the case of overruse: Putting a strain on your hands can make your fingers tender and sore even if you don’t suffer from arthritis. When your joints are in chronic pain due to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or another variety of the condition, you are even more likely to experience pain, stiffness, and swelling due to overuse of your hands and fingers.
Does Knuckle Cracking Lead to Arthritis Pain?
The general consensus about knuckle-cracking is that it’s a relatively harmless habit. It seems like the link between arthritis and cracking your knuckles is a myth, one that probably got started with people who were annoyed by the constant popping of other people’s knuckles.
So, Why Do We Crack Our Knuckles?
While cracking your knuckles is considered harmless in terms of health consequences, cracking your knuckles might become an unhealthy habit.
If you can’t stop cracking your knuckles, there’s a simple explanation for why the habit is so hard to break.
In general, knuckle-cracking stems from nervousness and stress. When you’re feeling a bit on edge, the act of cracking your knuckles might feel satisfying and offer some release of tension. If you’ve found satisfaction in the act of cracking your knuckles before, you’re likely to do it again. That’s why the habit is so easy to form and so tough to kick.
If you absolutely can’t stop cracking your knuckles, there might be a deeper reason behind the urge. If you suspect that your compulsive knuckle-cracking is linked to high stress or anxiety, talk to your doctor.
Why Do Our Knuckles Crack?
Medical professionals and researchers heavily speculate that it might be due to pockets of nitrogen within the fluid in your joints. However, that’s just one of many ideas about why cracking your knuckles makes that satisfying pop — interestingly enough, as of now, there isn’t a set medical explanation for why your knuckles make such a loud popping sound when you crack them.
What’s the Bottom Line on Cracking Knuckles?
There is no current legitimate evidence that cracking your knuckles – even every day – seems to cause arthritis, nor is it currently linked to the development of any other health issues. However, if you experience pain, swelling, and stiffness around your knuckles and that’s what’s compelling you to crack them, consult your doctor for additional guidance. While cracking knuckles doesn’t seem to cause arthritis, the opposite may hold true.
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Osteoarthritis - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic