Snap, Crackle and Pop – Why does my joints play the strangest Music?


One of the most common questions and concerns I hear in the clinic has to do with the music that your body makes. I am talking about clicking and popping around your joints! This really does freak people out and not completely grasping why your body creaks, pops and clicks could actually be a HUGE ROADBLOCK in your quest for health.

When asked people what they think their joint cracking means? The answers are often alarming and will frequently be along the lines of, “my joint is wearing away” or “ I am getting old” or “ I am having arthritis”. This is quite an extreme belief system to hold and may surely have a significant impact on their behavioral response to their crepitus (also known as cracks or pops). The aim of this blog is to explore this topic further.

Where does this sound come from?

There are many theories about it.

  1. One study found that clicking and popping at the knee were common in 99% of people. Noises were blamed on a “slip-stick phenomenon” where movement between the kneecap and femur are “sticky”. Likely because of reduced flexibility and joint lubrication.
  2. Another hypothesis is that noise is secondary to tendon rubbing against bone.
  3. Popping around the spine is thought to be secondary to a release of nitrogen from the joint.This is often a source of relief when receiving joint manipulations from a chiropractor, osteopathic doctor, physical therapist or your fraternity brother (Ouch!). It is not to say that this noise needs to occur to get relief, but people often associate this noise with actual change. It is funny how our brains work. Often times seeing or hearing something results in better outcomes. We love certainty.

When to be concerned about the noises?

There is one thing for sure, ‘all crackings are not associated with arthritis’

Crepitus is common and usually painless. There’s no need to be concerned about it. However, pain that accompanies the crackling and popping sounds could indicate a problem.

Eg, Knee crepitus is one of the common symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA). It also can be one of the symptoms of rheumatoid or infectious arthritis and may accompany several different types of knee injuries.

See your doctor as soon as possible if your knee cracks, crackles, and hurts.

Around 27 million Americans have OA, according to the Arthritis Foundation. This type of arthritis mainly affects people over the age of 65. Also known as “wear and tear” arthritis, OA commonly affects the joints used most often, such as the joints in the hands. It also affects weight-bearing joints such as the knees and hips.

Mechanical stress or biochemical changes slowly break down the cartilage that cushions the joint, causing inflammation and pain. Over time, the cartilage is destroyed and the bones grind together. When crepitus is accompanied by pain, it’s usually caused by OA.

Treat Crepitus when it HURTS

Crepitus is harmless and needs no treatment when it’s painless and isn’t caused by disease, injury, or another condition. But when pain accompanies a crunchy knee, treatment will depend on the underlying cause.

For instance, OA has a variety of treatments. Your doctor may prescribe Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory meds(NSAIDs) and suggest applying ice packs to reduce inflammation. A brace can help support and rest the knee. Physiotherapy will strengthen the muscles that support the knee and promote an increased range of motion.

The Big Take Away

  1. The tendency for tendons and all of your bits to rub together can be a result of reduced flexibility and joint/muscle lubrication. MOTION IS LOTION.
  2. In some cases, noises may also be a result of strength, stability or alignment issues during the day. Bringing some of your concerns to a skilled PT may be the fix that you need.
  3. Don’t forget… these noises are normal in people with and without pain, in the old and the young.
  4. If painful, visit your doctor without ignoring.

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