What Does It Mean When Your Joints Keep Cracking?

When you move, you might sometimes hear your joints crack. This is known as crepitus, Latin for "rattle," as per Healthline. These little pops might either give you relief, make you feel mildly uncomfortable, or inspire no sensation at all. However, hearing all the cracking might leave you concerned about the health of your joints. After all, surely these sounds aren't normal. But, orthopedic surgeon Kim L. Stearns, MD, told Cleaveland Clinic, "It's a normal, common occurrence."

You probably noticed that the older you get, the more of these types of noises you hear. There's a reason for that. "The older you get, the more noise your joints can make, because some of your cartilage wears away as part of the normal aging process," Dr. Stearns said. "Then these surfaces get a little rougher and so you get more noise as they rub against each other." While some joint cracking is normal and no cause for concern, you should contact a doctor in some cases. Read on to determine when the snap, crackle, and pop might indicate a problem.

Here's when you should see a doctor

There's some good news if you're worried about cracking joints causing arthritis. Healthline reported that it does not cause arthritis to crack your knuckles or other joints. Instead, that belief is merely an old wives' tale.

When should you worry about your joint cracking? "As long as it's not painful, joint noise is OK," Dr. Kim L. Stearns told Cleaveland Clinic. "If there's pain, you may have an injury then that requires treatment." Rehab Orthopedic Medicine reported that snapping and crackling could be a sign of arthritis, which is part of the normal aging process. Arthritis, and the joint noises that occur because of it, can be painful. The sounds you hear might indicate your bones are grinding against each other if your cartilage has worn away. When you feel joint pain in conjunction with your joints cracking, you should see your doctor to treat the underlying condition.

Here's what else can cause joint cracking sounds

If you don't feel pain when your joints crack, chances are you don't have to worry about arthritis just yet. According to Healthline, the sounds you hear can result from your muscles moving. Additionally, the joint cracking might occur when cavities or bubbles form in your synovial fluid, which contains oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide to help provide cushioning for your bones. When those bubbles or cavities pop, then you hear cracking. 

According to Cleveland Clinic, if you notice popping sounds while you're doing repetitive exercises, it could be a sign your muscles are tight. Dr. Kim L. Stearns recommended gentle stretching to help loosen up your tight muscles. If you hear more cracking joints than you'd like, and you're not concerned that it's due to arthritis, there is a solution to help lessen the amount of noise you hear. "We say motion is lotion – the more you move, the more your body lubricates itself," Dr. Stearns noted. "When you've been sitting or lying around, fluid in the joints doesn't move. The more active you are, the more your joints lubricate themselves." Grab a yoga mat and get into the habit of stretching regularly throughout the day.