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Crack Research: Good news about knuckle cracking

By |November 20, 2011|Research|

One man’s long, noisy, asymmetrical adventure gets him a high five.

Source Scientific American

By Steve Mirsky

The latest physical anthropology research indicates that the human evolutionary line never went through a knuckle-walking phase. Be that as it may, we definitely entered, and have yet to exit, a knuckle-cracking phase. I would run out of knuckles (including those on my feet) trying to count how many musicians wouldn’t dream of playing a simple scale without throwing off a xylophonelike riff on their knuckles first. But despite the popularity of this practice, most known knuckle crackers have probably been told by some expert—whose advice very likely began, “I’m not a doctor, but …”—that the behavior would lead to arthritis.

One M.D. convincingly put that amateur argument to rest with a study published back in 1998 in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism entitled “Does Knuckle Cracking Lead to Arthritis of the Fingers?” The work of sole author Donald Unger was back in the news in early October when he was honored as the recipient of this year’s Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine.

The Igs, for the uninitiated, are presented annually on the eve of the real Nobel Prizes by the organization Improbable Research for “achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” In Unger’s case, I thought about whether his protocol might be evidence that he is obsessive-compulsive. From his publication: “For 50 years, the author cracked the knuckles of his left hand at least twice a day, leaving those on the right as a control. Thus, the knuckles on the left were cracked at least 36,500 times, while those on the right cracked rarely and spontaneously.”

Unger undertook his self and righteous research because, as he wrote, “During the author’s childhood, various renowned authorities (his mother, several aunts and, later, his mother-in-law [personal communication]) informed him that cracking his knuckles would lead to arthritis of the fingers.” He thus used a half-century “to test the accuracy of this hypothesis,” during which he could cleverly tell any unsolicited advice givers that the results weren’t in yet. (more…)