Medical Myths, Debunked

Does cracking your knuckles really cause arthritis? Was your mom right when she said that going out in the cold without a jacket could make you sick? House Call Doctor debunks 4 popular medical myths. 

Rob Lamberts, MD,
September 12, 2012
Episode #059

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One of the main reasons I became the House Call Doctor was to counter a lot of the bad medical information that people encounter in life. When that information is widely held by many people, it is called a myth. In medicine there are many myths that people (myself included at times) accept without questions. Today’s article will focus on a few of the more common myths I encounter as a physician. I won’t, however, talk about those who doubt the zombie apocalypse. I’ll leave that up to the Get-It-Done Guy.

Myth #1: Does Popping Joints Cause Arthritis?

Joints pop when the pressure in a joint changes quickly. As I said in my first arthritis article, the joint is filled with a thick fluid called synovial fluid. When a joint moves in certain ways, it creates a negative pressure in places. Joints pop when the area of negative pressure is suddenly filled. There are some people out there who enjoy popping their joints, a habit that has distressed many people around the joint poppers. As a weapon against this percussive social faux pas, somebody somewhere decided that this habit was harmful. Many mothers have chided their knuckle-cracking children while sitting in an exam room with me. But I am sorry to say that the only thing wrong with popping joints is that it bugs other people. This may be an issue for the Modern Manners Guy, but it is not a medical issue.

Why You Shouldn’t Crack Your Neck

There may one exception to this rule: cracking your neck. Don’t crack your neck; there are arteries in your neck that may be damaged if you do that, and a neck that cracks often is a sign of hypermobility--a condition where the neck has a range of motion that is greater than it should be and can make you prone to injury.

Some joints are “creaky,” but this is nothing to worry about unless there is pain along with the creaking. Joints creak due to the tendons and ligaments around the joint. Yes, doctors do have a fancy word for creaking of joints; it is called crepitus.

Myth #2: Can You Get Sick From Going Outside Without a Jacket?

Perhaps you have been told that standing outside without a jacket will make you catch a cold or get pneumonia. I was told that when I was a kid, and it’s really hard to get rid of that belief—but it is simply not true. That myth is a classic example of a correlation that people have assumed to be cause and effect: whenever it’s cold out more people get sick, therefore it’s the cold that makes people sick.

There are several reasons people get sick more in the winter: One, viruses that make you sick show up in the wintertime. This happens down here in the South, where the winters are mild, just as much as it happens in the cold North. And two: people stay indoors more during the cold weather and so are more likely to come into physical contact with others or with things others have touched, thereby making it easier to transmit germs.