Q: My son is always cracking his knuckles! Is it safe?
A: It’s one of the oldest “old wives” tales out there: that cracking your knuckles will lead to arthritis when you get older. What is it that causes the joints to make these strange popping and clicking sounds?
The combination of pressure changes in the fluids in the joint spaces and the movement of tendons and ligaments over rough bony surfaces is likely the culprit. And while the habit can be annoying, many studies have concluded it doesn’t lead to the joint destruction seen in arthritis cases. But, if you’re looking for ammunition to discourage your son’s knuckle cracking, let him know that one study did find that “habitual knuckle crackers” were more likely to have swollen hands and weaker handgrips. That could be enough to discourage him, but if not, I’d recommend you let it be—most habits are more likely to disappear when you ignore them.
Lawrence D. Rosen, M.D., is the founder of the Whole Child Center in Oradell, New Jersey, one of the first green, integrative primary care practices in the U.S.
Have a question for Dr. Rosen? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.