If you’ve ever heard the sound of a joint cracking or popping, you might have wondered if it’s normal, healthy, or even safe.

Is it safe to crack my knuckles? We get asked this question at least once a day! Why does my knee pop every time time I go upstairs? Why does my hip crack when I bend down to pick up my grandkids? First let’s talk about WHY they pop and crack. In this blog post, we’ll explore the causes of joint cracking and popping, as well as whether or not it can cause harm or damage to your joints.

Causes of Joint Cracking and Popping

1. Gas bubbles escaping the joint

This is the most common cause and is usually from a deliberate crack, like when you crack your knuckles. When you attempt to crack a joint, you are stretching out the ligaments, joint, and surrounding tissues which causes air to be released and results in the often-satisfying noise. This is a harmless phenomenon that many people find satisfying or even addictive.

2. Ligament or tendon popping over the joint or bony structure

Another cause of joint cracking or popping is when a ligament or tendon pops over the joint or bony structure. This type of popping isn’t actually the joint itself making the noise, but a tight structure passing over a hard surface, such as a bone. One example of this is the hips, where certain tendons or ligaments can shift when you perform sit-to-stand or lift your leg. This can be painful if the muscle is very tight or it happens frequently. If you experience this type of popping, it’s worth getting a muscle length assessment to determine if any stretches are needed.

3. Arthritis and degeneration

Arthritis and degeneration can also cause clicking and popping in joints. With arthritis, rough joint surfaces can develop due to a lack of cushioning. In some cases, the bones may even grind against each other, which can cause pain, inflammation, and stiffness.

Is Joint Cracking and Popping Harmful?

The question that we often get asked is whether or not cracking and popping joints can cause harm or damage. The question I always ask my patients is does it hurt? Most of the time, if it doesn’t hurt, do not worry about it. I also stress, if a certain movement always causes popping and cracking but is pain free, do not avoid the movement. To maintain joint and muscle health, it is important to move, and move through the entire range possible for each joint.

Therefore, in most cases, the answer to whether joint cracking and popping is harmful is no. If your joints crack or pop without any pain, swelling, or discomfort, it’s usually not a cause for concern. However, if you experience pain, swelling, or other symptoms along with cracking or popping, it’s worth seeking medical attention.

It’s also worth noting that joint cracking and popping is not the same thing as joint grinding or crunching. If you hear a grinding or crunching noise in your joints, especially when you move, it could be a sign of a more serious condition, such as arthritis or a torn ligament. In these cases, it’s important to see a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Maintaining Joint Health

While joint cracking and popping is generally harmless, it’s still important to take care of your joints to maintain their health and prevent potential problems in the future. One of the best ways to do this is through regular exercise. Exercise can help improve joint flexibility, strength, and stability, which can reduce the risk of injury and degeneration. It’s important to engage in activities that challenge your joints in a safe and controlled manner, such as strength training, yoga, or swimming.

If you have concerns about your cracking or popping joints, it’s always a good idea to seek the advice of a physiotherapist. They can also work with you to provide you with a personalized exercise program to help improve joint function and reduce discomfort.

In conclusion, cracking and popping joints are common and usually harmless. While it is important to listen to your body and seek medical attention if you experience any pain or discomfort, in most cases, joint cracking and popping is simply a natural part of movement and a result of gas bubbles escaping the joint or ligaments and tendons passing over bony structures. At Altea Physiotherapy + Wellness, our experienced physiotherapists can assess your joints, muscles, and tendons to determine if there are any underlying issues that need to be addressed – you can book online, email us, or give us a call!