To Pop or Not to Pop?

Does popping or cracking your knuckles cause arthritis? When you pop your knuckles or your back, you're actually separating the bones in the joints that are being "popped." The sound comes from the synovial fluid that surrounds your joints. When the bones separate, air bubbles form in the joint, which then pop. While probably not very good for your joints, there is no evidence it leads to anything other than annoyed bystanders.

New Hopes for Treating Arthritis

There have been many advances in the treatment of arthritis in recent years. One of those advancements is the use of biologic response modifiers, also known as biologics. Biologics are proteins taken from human genes and altered to target and change certain elements of the immune system (unlike DMARDs, which work broadly on the immune system). Biologics have shown very good results in the treatment of RA and other forms of arthritis, greatly reducing symptoms and slowing the actual progression of the disease. Most patients who respond to them enter a state of arthritic remission. Biologics are either injected or taken intravenously. Since they suppress the immune system, there is an increased risk of infection.

Currently, cartilage cells can be collected from other parts of the body and transplanted to the damaged area, but the cells often don't produce enough new cartilage. Researchers are making great strides toward using bone stem cells to reproduce and replace damaged cartilage in patients with OA. The stem cells are located within the articular cartilage and can transform into chondrocytes, which form cartilage.

Doctors sometimes use platelet-rich plasma (PRP) grafts to stimulate tissue growth and repair. Platelets -- the portion of blood that forms clots -- contain many elements that stimulate growth. Blood is taken from a patient and spun in a centrifuge until the platelets are separated. This platelet-rich plasma is then injected back into the patient using diagnostic ultrasound to precisely locate the target area. It is an outpatient procedure, and more than one treatment may be necessary to obtain positive results.

To learn more about arthritis, protecting your joints and knee replacements, try the HowStuffWorks articles on the next page.