Why is Cracking my Joints Bad?


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             This past weekend I went home to visit my family. It was so nice to sleep in my own bed, however I woke up a little stiff. I had just come downstairs to fix myself a cup of coffee when I decided to crack my neck to relieve my stiffness. My dad, who was reading the morning paper at the kitchen table, looked at me with disgust. "Don't do that!" he demanded. I have him one of my 'yeah, yeah okay dad' eye rolls. He continued to tell me that I'm going to get Arthritis if I continue to crack my joints.

            Before I ask the obvious question, "Does cracking my joints cause Arthritis?" I should probably get a better understanding of what cracking joints is actually doing. How Stuff Works explains that popping or cracking joints is basically a joint manipulation. Joints are the meeting points where tissues and ligaments hold two bones together. Surrounding these joints is a synovial fluid, and when stretched, causes a pressure that can form bubbles. When you pop your joints, you are causing cavitation. Cavitation is when the bubbles from the synovial fluid pop.

            Now that I know what cracking joints actually means, I'm beginning to question whether or not it could actually be bad. Onto the real question, "Does cracking my joints cause Arthritis?" Medical News Today describes the study, Knuckle Cracking and Hand Osteoarthritis, done from the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland. Although previous studies did not find a connection between cracking joints and Arthritis, one study suggested an inverse correlation in knuckle joint Arthritis.

In the study of 214 people, 135 had Arthritis and 80 didn't. When the researchers gathers the data on the participants' frequency and durations of their knuckle cracking, they found that 20% of the individuals cracked their knuckles daily, 18.1% of those who cracked their knuckles had Arthritis, and 21.5% of those who didn't crack their knuckles had Arthritis. Through everything...

 

"The researchers said the difference in the prevalence of osteoarthritis between the knuckle crackers and non-knuckle crackers was not significantly statistically different."

 

And then concluded that...

 

"When examined by joint type, knuckle cracking (KC) was not a risk for OA in that joint. Total past duration (in years) and volume (daily frequency '- years) of KC of each joint type also was not significantly correlated with OA at the respective joint.

A history of habitual KC - including the total duration and total cumulative exposure does not seem to be a risk factor for hand OA."

                                                                                    Kevin deWeber

 

WebMD explains that there are many theories that cracking joints causes Arthritis, however nothing has been proven. MayoClinic says that Arthritis is the "wear-and-tear damage" of joints' cartilage. Age, family history, gender, and obesity are all risk factors of Arthritis, however cracking knuckles is not one of them. WebMD also states that when knuckles crack, no harm is done. From all that, I'm going to assume that cracking my joints does not cause Arthritis. If I had found support that cracking joints caused Arthritis, I was going to try to cut my habit. Since I found that it didn't, I'm probably going to continue to crack my joints. Lets hope I wasn't wrong and don't get Arthritis. Wish me luck.

knuckle-cracking.jpg

4 Comments

Could it be possible that people crack their knuckles because of Arthritis (Reverse causation)? I had trouble reading some of the smaller text in your blog so maybe I missed this, but is there any physical benefits to cracking your joints? Also I was thrown off from the title, but is the effects of cracking knuckles different from the cracking of your neck? An article I found (http://healthpsych.psy.vanderbilt.edu/2009/KnuckleCracking.htm) talks about gender vs. arthritis and I'm wondering if gender is a possible third variable. Just picking your brain a little :P.

When I first wrote the blog, I was writing it after my dad had an issue with me cracking my neck. Because that was the original question I had, I left the title. However, now that I am looking back at it, I feel that you're right. The title doesn't really match as much as it should. If you've noticed, I altered the title so that it matched better with my blog. I felt that Reverse causation could absolutely be a possibility here, however, Arthritis is usually brought on later in life. Different types of Arthritis have different average ages, but in the case of Osteoarthritis, the average age for the diagnosed are over 60. Because we are so young and are cracking our knuckles, there is a less chance that we are cracking them because we already have Arthritis.

http://www.diffen.com/difference/Osteoarthritis_vs_Rheumatoid_Arthritis

Thank goodness they have not found anything that would seriously suggest knuckle cracking and arthritis because I crack my everything from my neck and shoulder to neck and toes... I always remembered adults telling me you shouldn't do it because it would cause arthritis but some habits are just too hard to break.

As for the study the results seem very sound and reasonable. The suggestion of reverse causation by the one study seemed odd because if people had arthritis why would it compel them to crack their joints more if it might cause pain.

Well I'm still glad I'm not at anymore risk of arthritis because of my unbreakable habit.. Time to start these comments/posts *cracks knuckles*

It's good that you recognize there are so many third variable factors associated with arthritis. I would have approached this research the same way you did. I was always skeptical of whether or not this, "cracking your joints causes arthritis" thing was true. Luckily, my dad is a chiropractor ( http://careerthoughts.com/chiropractor-jobs ) and assured me it was not necessarily true. With that said, it is really bad to "self adjust" yourself. This includes cracking your neck, having someone walk on your back, etc. According to a chiropractic website: introducing force that is essentially a gross mobilization of the area can lead to further instability in regions of the spine that are already moving too much to begin with.

Even the most skilled chiropractors are unable to detect the level of subluxation in their own spines and give themselves a specific adjustment!

Wrap it up: moral of the story is it's impossible for you to adjust yourself in a manner that provides benefits to your spine, so leave it to professionals!

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