Should You Be Worried if Your Joints Crack All the Time?

In most cases, a crack or pop is nothing to worry about. But painful, swollen, or stiff joints may be causes for concern.

Your joints are points in your body where two bones meet. Connective tissue, like ligaments and tendons, surrounds the joints. That tissue allows for specific amounts of movement. For example, some joints, like those in your wrists, move more than others, like the ones in your knees.

From time to time, you might hear your joints crack or pop as you move them. And if you're wondering if that's a bad sign, here's what you should know about joints cracking and popping. 

Why Do Joints Crack and Pop?

As long as cracking and popping sounds don't come with any pain or swelling, generally, you don't need to worry. 

Sometimes, those noises are just gas bubbles bursting within the fluid surrounding the joint. The fluid, called synovial fluid, is full of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, which are gases. If you crack your knuckles, for example, those gases release, and bubbles form. 

Other times, you hear the sound of your ligaments and tendons stretching and releasing. If you're moving around causes your joints to shift slightly, you may hear a crack or pop as they go back to their original place.

Also, if you notice those sounds more often when you repeatedly move the joint, you may have tight muscles or tendons. For instance, if you're doing shoulder presses at the gym, the soft snapping or clicking sound may be the sound of tight muscles or tendons moving over a bony structure.

To help silence the snapping, try doing some gentle stretching that involves the affected joint and the surrounding muscles.

Also, injuries involving the joint may result in cracks and pops. For example, if a ligament heals improperly, the joint may pop when you move it.

When To See a Healthcare Provider

Cartilage acts as a cushion between the bony surfaces of your joints. Remember that joints may also make noise as you age because some cartilage wears away over time. 

In addition to aging, sports injuries, genetics, and arthritis, including osteoarthritis, may cause injury or damaged cartilage. For example, osteoarthritis causes symptoms like:

  • Painful joints
  • Swollen joints, especially after periods of use
  • Stiff joints, especially after periods of inactivity
  • Decreased mobility 
  • Loose, unsteady joints

Other health conditions that involve the joints include lupus and Sjögren's syndrome. Both conditions are autoimmune diseases that target different body parts, possibly causing joint pain. 

Also, bursitis, tendinitis, and chronic strain are overuse injuries that may also cause painful joints. Bursitis occurs when the bursa, the padding between the bones of your joints, swells with fluid, which may cause joint popping. Tendinitis happens when your tendons swell, making your joints hard to move. With chronic strain, your muscles or tendons may stretch or tear due to repeated movements.

Generally, if you are experiencing discomfort in the joint, along with the popping sound, consult a healthcare provider. You may have an injury or arthritic damage that needs further investigation. Based on the underlying problem, a healthcare provider can prescribe proper treatments.

How To Prevent Joint Injuries

One of the best ways to prevent your joints from making noise or becoming damaged is to move daily. Regular exercise helps keep your muscles strong, which also supports your joints.

In fact, according to one study published in 2021 in Frontiers in Physiology, several types of exercise can help with types of arthritis—in particular, knee osteoarthritis—such as:

  • Aerobic exercise
  • Strength training
  • Neuromuscular exercise, which may include core and plyometric exercises to improve balance and joint stability
  • Balance training
  • Proprioception training, which includes balance exercises
  • Aquatic exercise

The researchers found that with knee osteoarthritis, those exercises can help prevent cartilage from breaking down, reduce inflammation, and stop bone loss.

Also, to prevent injuries, ensure that you wear the proper gear to protect your joints, especially if you play sports.

A Quick Review

For the most part, joint cracking and popping are harmless. But if pain, swelling, or stiffness accompanies those noises, consulting a healthcare provider may be helpful. Aging, sports injuries, types of arthritis, autoimmune diseases, and overuse injuries may result in cracks and pops.

To prevent joint injury and damage, staying active can help. Try incorporating different exercise types, like aerobic or resistance training, into your daily routine.

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  2. Orthopedic Associates. When is joint popping a problem?.

  3. National Library of Medicine. Cartilage disorders.

  4. National Library of Medicine. Osteoarthritis.

  5. National Library of Medicine. Joint disorders.

  6. Zeng CY, Zhang ZR, Tang ZM, Hua FZ. Benefits and Mechanisms of Exercise Training for Knee OsteoarthritisFront Physiol. 2021;12:794062. doi:10.3389/fphys.2021.794062

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