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Sports Medicine | Sep 3, 2019

Clicks, pops, and crackles – are your joints wearing out? Find out what might be happening under the surface, and how to improve your joint health.

You bend down to pick up the morning paper, and your back creaks. Your crouch to tip food into the cat bowl, and your knee pops when you stand back up. Getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom makes your ankle click, and opening a jar makes your wrist grind loudly and your finger joints crack.

What makes your joints get louder as you get older? Joint sounds can be a natural result of aging. The cartilage that sits between the bones of your joints thins and wears away, causing roughened surfaces that can make a noise that sounds like creaking when they rub together.  

Tight muscles or tendons can also cause joint sounds, rubbing over the bone as you move a joint and creating a light “snap” or a whispery crackle. Gentle stretching can often help with this issue, which also affects younger people. The most common places for tight muscles and tendons are in the shoulders, elbows, knees and hips. 

Many of your joints also contain natural gases, such as nitrogen, which can bubble and be compressed in the joint. The popping of your knuckles or knees could just “cavitation” – gases escaping the joint.  (Tip: You can’t give yourself arthritis by cracking your knuckles. That’s just an old wives’ tale.)

Snaps, crackle, pop – none of these joint sounds on their own are worrisome, but it’s when they are accompanied by pain, redness, or swelling that you need to be concerned. If you notice pain, that could be a sign that there is arthritis. Redness could indicate inflammation and potential infection.  If there is swelling, you could have a build-up of fluid in the joint as a response to aggravation in the joint capsule caused by joint deterioration.

Dealing with joint sounds and potential joint issues starts with being as active as possible. When you move, your joints self-lubricate. The more lubrication there is, the less friction occurs. If you make sure to move as much as you can every day, your joints can stay “well-oiled” and moving freely. 

If you have joint pain, contact our office for a consultation with our orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Scott Strasburger. He can identify if you have joint damage, and recommend non-invasive treatments as well as surgery if medically indicated.