A good portion of people enjoying cracking or popping their knuckles. Or, in my case, knuckles, back, neck, ankles, etc.

QUESTION: My news producer, Monique, wanted to know if the habit leads to arthritis.

PROCESS: We’ve heard it over the years, maybe from our parents who didn’t want us to start the popping. “Don’t crack your knuckles or they will swell and you’ll get arthritis!"

I asked many people around my newsroom and several of them thought the same thing.

So, to verify, we reached out to Allston Stubbs, Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Health.

First, you’re not actually cracking anything.

“You’re not actually breaking the bone. You’re not actually breaking the joint,” said Stubbs.

The noise a joint makes when you pop it, is simply a change in pressure.

“Every joint has a certain amount of negative pressure, like a suction cup,” Stubbs explained. “When you move that joint suddenly in a particular direction, it’s like taking a suction cup off of a mirror. It’s going to make a noise.”

There’s many kinds of arthritis and if you are already showing signs of it, then popping a joint might hurt, but it won’t make it worse or progress the condition. But, would joint popping cause arthritis to begin with?

“As best we can tell, both from experience and medical research (it) does not lead to long-term damage.”

Speaking of medical research, Donald Unger won a Nobel Prize for his in-depth study on himself. He popped the knuckles on his left hand twice a day for 50 years. That’s over 36,000 times. He never touched the knuckles on his right hand. The result? Unger didn’t have any more arthritis in one hand than in the other.

So, verified.

“Knuckle cracking or cracking your fingers, I would call an innocent habit,” said Stubbs.


New Scientist

Everyday Health

Allston Stubbs, Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Wake Forest Baptist Health