Why do my joints 'crack'?

A question that is frequently asked in clinic, why do my bones crack?! A knee that ‘clicks’ when you get up, a back that ‘cracks’ when you twist, or an ankle that ‘pops’ when you move it, we have all experienced strange noises that we don’t necessarily expect to hear.

Cracking, snapping noises can often be loud, and a little disconcerting but usually it isn’t anything to worry about. However, if cracking is coupled with pain and swelling then it can be something a little more serious.

Generally, the older we get, the louder we become! As part of the normal ageing process, cartilage wears away and surfaces get a little rougher causing noise as they rub against each other.

There are a few main reasons why your joints may make cracking or snapping noises:

Gases – Inside of joints is a lubricant known as synovial fluid, which contains gases such as nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. When a movement causes the joint capsule to stretch, it makes a popping, cracking noise whilst the gas releases. This is the most common case of ‘noisy joints’ and is generally nothing to worry about.

Tendons, ligaments and joint movements – If structures are weak, particularly from a lack of exercise, joints, tendons and ligaments can become slightly out of place. The ‘snapping’ noise you hear is when it is returning to it’s normal position. If you are doing a repetitive exercise, such as lifting weights, you may notice a slight popping noise – this is generally when a surrounding muscle is tight, rubbing and causing friction over the bone. If that is the case, a gentle stretch or deep tissue massage may help to relieve it. This kind of noise is common in the shoulder joint, which is actually the ‘noisiest’ joint in the body because there are so many moving parts and tendons that bones can run over.

Arthriris and worn cartilage – Worn cartilage can cause bone on bone friction, which is common in people suffering from arthritis and produces a popping, cracking noise. Omega 3 oils have been proven to help with the inflammation and can help to relieve symptoms. 

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