Joints may make popping, cracking or creaky sounds for a variety of reasons. As an orthopedic surgeon, I am asked commonly about this issue. Often people have anxiety or stress about these sounds because they have heard that this is a bad problem. This can be diagnostic and symptomatic for a medical problem but often, it is simply a harmless sound.
Here are two very common reasons our joints may make a popping sound when moved or manipulated:
#1 – Due to gas inside the joint:
Commonly, joints make an audible cracking sound when the joint is stretched or manipulated due to gas inside the joint fluid or synovial fluid. Common gases in the joint are Oxygen and Nitrogen. When you flex and stretch your fingers in order to “crack your knuckles”, the capsule around the joint which contains this gas filled fluid causes the bubbles to burst which causes that sound. The sound may be loud or dull. Often, you have to wait a period of time before the sound can be heard again, if you manipulate the joint. It takes time for the gas bubbles to reform in the joint.
As a practicing orthopedic surgeon, I do not recommend “cracking your neck, knuckles or other joints”. It is of note that there are no conclusive, solid double blind studies that show “cracking your joints” is harmful or that it leads to arthritis.
#2 – After an injury or trauma:
There are examples when popping or cracking joints can be the herald sign of something harmful. Individuals who have painful grinding and creaking joints that started after an injury or trauma to their joints may have arthritis. This is not a good thing. Arthritis occurs when the protective cartilage lining of a joint has been damaged or eroded. This can occur from an injury, aging, or an even inflammatory condition like rheumatoid arthritis.
If you have had an injury, for example to your hips or knee and experience significant hip and or knee pain, as well as popping of your joints, you may have arthritis in these areas. I recommend an evaluation by your healthcare practitioner. After an appropriate history and physical exam, they may order the necessary radiographic tests to evaluate the joint. Arthritis is common and pain with creaking and popping in any joint warrants proper evaluation by your doctor.
These two common examples about “noisy joints” illustrate the harmless and not so harmless reasons that joints pop and crack.
Remember: Exercise daily, hydrate well and maintain a balanced diet to keep your joints and body moving well. Keep on Exercising! Exercise is Life!
By Dr. Levi Harrison
Author of “The Art of Fitness: A Journey to Self Enhancement”
For more information about Dr. Levi Harrison and his practice, please visit drleviharrison.com or call 818-240-8001. Dr. Levi Harrison’s practice is located at 1560 E. Chevy Chase Drive, Suite #350, Glendale, CA 91206.