Dr. Koc helps answer the question of knuckle cracking

How Does Osteoarthritis Affect The Body?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a disease that affects all joints in the body, not just the hands. For more information on osteoarthritis in other areas of the body, check out our previous article that discusses the symptoms, causes, and treatment of knee osteoarthritis. In this article, we will look at OA of the hands and wrists, and the impact of knuckle cracking.

Symptoms of Hand OA

There are multiple areas where OA can affect the hand:

  • Wrist
  • Basilar joint (connects the thumb and wrist)
  • Fingertips (DIP joint)
  • Mid knuckles of the fingers (PIP joint)

OA occurs when the cartilage between the joints breaks down, causing discomfort. Bones begin to rub against each other and, eventually, will grow bone over the areas that used to be cartilage. This means the affected bones slowly start to get bigger, resulting in stiffness, pain, and swelling instead of the regular pain-free gliding motion at the joint.

Symptoms of OA of the hand can be different for each individual and may show up in different areas of the hand depending on the person. Some symptoms may include:

  • Aching of the joints in the hand and wrist
  • Stiffness in the fingertips and wrist
  • A weak grip 
  • Difficulty moving the fingers
  • Swelling and/or tenderness in the knuckles/wrist

Does Cracking Your Knuckles Lead to Arthritis?

There is no direct correlation between knuckle cracking and any form of arthritis, including OA. In fact, Californian medical doctor, Sebastian “Donald” Unger, dedicated most of his life to this single experiment; for over 50 years, Dr. Unger only cracked the knuckles of one hand while leaving the other hand un-cracked. His groundbreaking experiment (and resistance!) earned him an Ig Nobel Prize in 2009.

So, does knuckle cracking lead to arthritis? No. However, if you start to feel pain while cracking your knuckles, it could indicate trouble. Diagnosing hand arthritis includes a handful of tests, including X-rays to determine if there is any loss of cartilage. Talk to your doctor if  you are experiencing:

  • Hand tenderness
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Limited range of motion

X-rays, blood tests, and joint fluid analyses all help determine whether any signs of inflammation in the hands are caused by arthritis or a separate condition. 

Risk Factors of Hand OA

There are many factors that contribute to getting diagnosed with hand OA. Your risk increases if:

  • You are above the age of 55
  • You are female
  • You are a member of a family with diagnosed joint pain
  • You are in an occupation that requires work with your hands (ie manufacturing)
  • You are recovering from a hand injury
  • You are living with malformed joints or defective cartilage

The more you use your hands, the more the cartilage between the joints will break down, resulting in a higher chance of developing hand OA. 

How To Treat Osteoarthritis of the Hand

There are ways to treat hand OA, with the first being prescription pain medication. After talking to your doctor, pain medication can be helpful during flare-ups in your hand. It will relieve the pain temporarily and can help an individual with daily activities. 

A doctor may also recommend daily exercises to complete. They may give a prescription to attend physical therapy for a certain period of time to complete these exercises and receive professional help to try to heal the pain. Here at Pro Staff Physical Therapy, we will walk you through a series of exercises that will help you continue your daily routine. If you’d like to book an appointment click here.

Lastly, focusing on a healthy diet with proper nutrients will not only help with symptoms of hand OA, but it can help with the overall feel of your body’s health. A body that is overweight can increase pressure to the joints and emphasize the symptoms of OA. Keeping a well-balanced diet means adding more fruits and vegetables to your dishes, along with whole grains and lean meats. 


Understanding the symptoms and risk factors to hand OA can be the first step to trying to prevent the progressive disease. Hand OA will start off slowly and continuously get worse over the years, therefore, catching it early means an easier life with exercise and treatments at your side. While there is no cure, this is easily manageable with the help of a good physical therapy practice like Pro Staff Physical Therapy. 

Pro Staff Institute, LLC, has a network of outpatient physical rehabilitation centers in New Jersey. Pro Staff was founded in 2010 by Frank Pavlisko and Michael Maffucci. Through Frank’s 25 plus years experience in Physical Therapy and Michael’s experience in Management Services, our goal is to exceed customer expectations by providing the highest quality of service in a fun, family, friendly, and encouraging environment.


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