Your mother always said, “Don’t crack your knuckles – you’ll get arthritis.” Well, she was dead wrong.
The new findings show that cracking your joints is not detrimental to bone health. On the contrary, it may actually help ward off joint trouble.
Dr. Tyler Cymet and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore determined the incidence of osteoarthritis in 100 men and women whose average age was 59. They compared the incidence in those who cracked their joints and those who didn’t.
Osteoarthritis occurred significantly more often in those who said they never cracked their joints. “People who said they cracked their neck, of their back, hips or knees, had less osteoarthritis than those who didn’t,” Cymet told Reuters Health.
Cymet said this is the second observational study he’s conducted on joint cracking and osteoarthritis and the results are the same – osteoarthritis was more common in those who never cracked their joints.
“There is no evidence,” he concludes, “that cracking your joints does any damage” and it may be protective.
Cracking may be a little bit like stretching, Cymet said. In a pilot study of 10 patients, he took x-rays of the joints before and after cracking and “it looks like the joint space decreases after cracking, you have more motion and you’re able to function a little bit better.”
The study also revealed an age-related pattern to joint cracking. “We found that people crack their joints usually between the ages of 18 and 45 and then stop. People who are less active tend to crack their joints less often than people who are active.”
“If you are not active, then you are going to lose the ability to use the joints and the people who tended to crack more were the ones that were more active,” Cymet noted. “So the thinking is- if you use your joints well, that will protect them.”
There are a lot of theories about what makes the popping or cracking sound in joints. Cymet thinks its fluid breaking the surface tension with gas. “So if you pull gas into a joint by squeezing everything together you hear a pop or crack and that’s the fluid release,” he explained.
Once a joint is cracked, it usually takes up to 20 minutes to crack that same joint again, Cymet noted, “because it takes that long for the fluid to come out of suspension and create the gas again.”