Wellness Mind & Body It Is Not Bad to Crack Your Knee: What Happens When You Pop Your Joints Knee and joint cracking usually do not cause arthritis or other health conditions. Learn more about what happens when you pop your joints. By Dr. Roshini Raj Dr. Roshini Raj Roshini Raj, MD, is Health magazine's medical editor and coauthor of What the Yuck?!. Board-certified in gastroenterology and internal medicine, Dr. Raj is a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at New York University Medical Center, a contributor on the Today show, and a co-founder of the Tula skin care line. health's editorial guidelines Updated on February 1, 2023 Medically reviewed by Mohamad Hassan, PT Medically reviewed by Mohamad Hassan, PT Mohamad Hassan, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist at Premier Physical Therapy in Chicago. He works in both outpatient rehab and in-home physical therapy. learn more Share Tweet Pin Email Getty Images When you crack your joints, you may be wondering what the sound means and if the pops are a sign of a joint condition. But as long as you do not have pain or swelling, the sounds most likely are not signs of illness or injury. Learn more about the causes and effects of joint cracking. Should You Be Worried if Your Joints Crack All the Time? What Causes Joint Cracking? Joint cracking may happen because of bubbles between your joints. Scientists generally believe that joint cracking happens in these four phases: At rest, before you pop your joint: No force is being applied between your bones. Your joint surfaces are touching each other.Separation starts: When you begin applying force in the move that cracks your joint, your joint surfaces start moving away from each other.Meeting the cracking threshold: During this time period, you create a bubble in your synovial fluid (the liquid between your joints) and your joints crack. Scientists hypothesize that this bubble forms because you lower the pressure in your joints when you move your bones away from each other.Refractory period: After cracking your joints, you cannot crack your joints again for several minutes, even if you try. The refractory period for knuckle cracking is about 20 minutes. However, scientists debate what exactly causes the cracking noise. One common theory is that the collapse of the bubbles creates a loud sound. Other researchers believe that the quick formation of a bubble is what makes the noise. Does Joint Cracking Cause Arthritis? Despite common belief, joint cracking is not a cause of arthritis. However, one study found that research participants with noisy joints tended to develop osteoarthritis in the future, even if they did not have other arthritis symptoms. Even though the action does not cause arthritis, cracking noises could be a sign you may develop it in the future. What Causes Knee Pain After Working Out? Do You Need Treatment if Your Joint Cracking Isn’t Painful? If your joint cracking isn't painful and is not linked to swelling, it likely is not a sign of a health condition. Your joints can just crack normally. However, if you prefer to have fewer cracking and popping noises, talk to your healthcare provider about some stretches and exercises you can try. Stretching your hip, calves, and shins could be helpful. You can also try doing side steps with a resistance band, inner thigh squats, and squeezing a ball between your thighs. What if Your Joint Cracking Is Painful? If your joint cracking is painful, you may want to speak with a healthcare provider so they can help determine what the cause is. Osteoarthritis If popping your joints is painful, that can be a sign of osteoarthritis. This type of arthritis occurs when the cartilage cushion between your joints degenerates. This can damage the bones, fat, ligaments, and tissue around your joint as you start having more friction in that joint. A common risk factor for osteoarthritis is age, but young people can also develop this condition. You may be at higher risk for this condition if you: Are older Have a family history of osteoarthritis Had a joint injury Had surgery on your joint Have clinical obesity Overuse your joints from repetitive movements There is no treatment for osteoarthritis, but you can work with your healthcare provider to manage your symptoms. Common recommendations include: Pain medications Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) Acupuncture Managing your weight (if you have clinical obesity) Using braces Physical therapy exercises Tear in the Meniscus Besides arthritis, pain when popping your joint could signal that you are tearing your meniscus. The meniscus is the disk of cartilage that sits in your knee joint. It absorbs the shock of impacts and helps to stabilize your knee. If you have a meniscal tear, you will have pain and difficulty moving that joint. Follow up with your healthcare provider for an exam and scans of your knee, and to discuss a treatment plan. A mild tear may heal on its own with rest. However, if it keeps hurting, you might need surgery. Should You Be Worried if Your Joints Crack All the Time? A Quick Review Cracking your knuckles or other joints isn't known to cause arthritis or other bone conditions. However, knee cracking could be a sign that you'll develop osteoarthritis in the future. If you find yourself constantly cracking your joints and want to tamper it down, or the popping is painful, reach out to a healthcare provider. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Rizvi A, Loukas M, Oskouian RJ, Tubbs RS. Let's get a hand on this: Review of the clinical anatomy of "knuckle cracking." Clin Anat. 2018;31(6):942-945. doi:10.1002/ca.23243 Song SJ, Park CH, Liang H, Kim SJ. Noise around the knee. Clin Orthop Surg. 2018;10(1):1-8. doi:10.4055/cios.2018.10.1.1 National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Osteoarthritis. Lo GH, Strayhorn MT, Driban JB, Price LL, Eaton CB, Mcalindon TE. Subjective crepitus as a risk Factor for incident symptomatic knee osteoarthritis: Data from the osteoarthritis initiative. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2018;70(1):53-60. doi:10.1002/acr.23246 National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Osteoarthritis: diagnosis, treatment, and steps to take. National Library of Medicine. Meniscus tears - aftercare.