Cracking Your Knuckles Won’t Give You Arthritis

“You know all there is to know about fighting, so there’s no sense us going down that same old road again. To beat this guy, you need speed – you don’t have it. And your knees can’t take the pounding, so hard running is out. And you got arthritis in your neck, and you’ve got calcium deposits on most of your joints, so sparring is out.” —Duke, Rocky Balboa (2006)

In A Nutshell

It’s a habit that some people find relief in, and others find annoying. Everyone who’s done it has probably been told that they’re increasing their risk for arthritis, but there’s absolutely no medical evidence to support this claim. There are, however, other dangers such as dislocated fingers associated with obsessive knuckle-cracking, so many medical experts recommend you still don’t do it.

The Whole Bushel

It’s an often-recited admonishment: Cracking your knuckles will increase your chances of developing arthritis down the road. Fortunately for those that habitually crack their knuckles, there’s absolutely no medical evidence to support the claim. In fact, one study showed a reverse correlation between cracking knuckles and arthritis; the more that those surveyed did it, the less likely they were to develop arthritis.

Unfortunately, there are other dangers associated with habitual knuckle-cracking, so it’s still not necessarily a habit that’s healthy for your hands.

There have only been a handful of actual studies done on the correlation between arthritis and knuckle-cracking, and the first was a 60-year commitment made by a single doctor who was apparently really, really tired of being told he was giving himself arthritis by cracking his knuckles. So for 60 years, he committed to cracking the knuckles of his left hand twice a day, while leaving his right hand uncracked. At the end of six decades, there was no difference between the condition of his hands.

More formalized studies were also done, in the form of surveying elderly patients who either had or had not developed arthritis whether or not they had cracked their knuckles when they were younger. In one such study, done in 1975, it was discovered that those who had been habitual knuckle-crackers were less likely to have arthritis in their old age.

Several other, more recent studies have confirmed the findings that it doesn’t even matter how often you crack your knuckles (you can do it about every 15 minutes): It’s still not more likely that you’ll give yourself arthritis from doing it.

But there are other dangers associated with the habit.

Knuckles pop because when the space between the joint is increased, tiny bubbles in the fluid between the joints form larger bubbles, which is then popped by the extra fluid the body floods the joint with to fill the space.

While that might not cause arthritis, it can cause damage to the ligaments that secure the joint in the first place. It’s not unheard of for people to tear ligaments while cracking their knuckles, or cause enough damage to the ligaments that they end up dislocating fingers. Long-term knuckle-cracking can also lead to a noticeably reduced strength in a person’s hands. It’s also been associated with changes in a person’s skin and development of pads or calluses over the joints.

So what does cause arthritis? Studies suggest that there’s a genetic component to how likely you are to develop one of the different types of arthritis. It’s not always an age-related disease, either, and can be brought on by the extra strain put on joints by obesity or repetitive activity such as job-related strain. Women are also more likely to develop arthritis, and joints that have been exposed to injuries can be more susceptible to becoming arthritic.

And the presence of arthritis in a joint can make it more likely that a joint will be damaged by habitual knuckle-cracking, and joints may be more likely to crack on their own because of the damage that’s been done by the arthritis.

Show Me The Proof

Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center: Knuckle Cracking Q and A
BBC Future: Does cracking your knuckles cause arthritis?
Providence Health Services: Ask an Expert: Knuckle cracking and arthritis
Centers for Disease Control: Arthritis

  • Lisa 39

    Wait til i tell my mom! She was all over my teen knuckle cracking phase, i think i’ll crack my knuckles now! Awesome article debra!

  • Atlas

    I remember cracking my knuckles around my grandmother and having her tell me it causes arthritis. I would try to tell her otherwise but she would have none of it. On the other hand, I didn’t know the actual dangers of cracking your knuckles, so either way she was probably right about stopping! Great work as always Flamehorse!

    • Check


      • Atlas

        Whoops I’ll change that, haha I just got finished reading Flamehorse’s article, I meant Debra. Thanks for letting me know Check, I probably wouldn’t have noticed my mistake!

        • Check

          No problem. For a second there I was like, “Is Flamehorse…..DEBRA?????” lol!

          • Atlas

            Haha a new LV/KN conspiracy!

          • lbatfish

            Now I understand why you picked “Check” as your nick. Good catch!

  • Clyde Barrow

    Knuckle cracking….not nearly as bothersome as neck cracking.

    • Lisa 39

      Good lord my son does that, i’m waiting for his head to fall off.

      • Clyde Barrow

        It’s just creepy to watch someone twist their neck around until it cracks. Paralysis comes to mind…

        • Lisa 39

          Very creepy, and then for shits and giggles after my dumb dumb stupidhead kid cracks his neck he twists the whole upper half of his body to crack his spine, yes, paralysis comes to my mind also, its just icky!

  • oouchan

    I can’t help it…I crack my knuckles all the time and my elbows. One toe as well. Yeah…I know I’m weird. I’ve heard that it doesn’t cause arthritis, but didn’t know it can cause other issues.


    • I crack my jaw. I’ve never dislocated it, but now I’m worried I might..

      • oouchan

        Wow! I did that by accident once and it hurt like hell!

        • Yikes! How did you get it back in place?

          • oouchan

            It snapped back in, but it was swollen for about a week.

          • I’m beginning to see why my dentist has warned me against doing it.

          • lbatfish

            But without letting your jawbone out of your socket, it’s impossible to consume small game without cutting it up first. And that always makes such a mess!

    • percynjpn

      “others find annoying”

      Yes – yes we do. . . not lovely. Going-postal-type-frothing-at-the mouth-annoyance-induced-by-idiotic-obsessive- retard-like-stupiditiously-stupid habit. Well, it’s at least somewhat distracting, if nothing else.

  • Nathaniel A.

    Another theory as to this phenomenon is that instead of knuckle-cracking leading to Arthritis, the opposite may be true, that knuckle-cracking may be a warning sign for arthritis.

  • moco25

    It’s just stupid to deliberately crack your knuckles, joints or whatever….I’ve always thought it was a stupid thing to do….I’ve accidentally popped my knee before and it hurt like hell for some time, I wouldn’t be surprised if I did tear some ligaments in the process….not a good thing.

  • Rahul dev
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