Popping and Clicking in Your Joints: What It Means.

This article is about joint noise, what causes it and how to keep your joints healthy.
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Have the sound of your joints has ever surprised you making noise when you move?   You may wonder if anyone else can hear it.  ‘Cracking’ and ‘popping’, even sounds like grinding can be disconcerting.  

Don’t worry!  These sounds don’t mean your body’s falling apart.  Let’s look at the science behind why this might happen–and what you may do about it. 

These ole joints

Your joints and muscles are always quietly at work. They have to remain flexible and strong enough for all the bending, lifting, and straining our daily activities require from us. Unfortunately, joints wear down over time and muscle imbalances occur with continuous use, leading to a common issue: joints making noises. 

If you hear a noise coming from your joint, it’s usually because the two bones coming together don’t sit quite right for several reasons. Under normal circumstances, these noises can be completely normal, signifying nothing more than your joints needing a bit of tender loving care.  

The science behind the noise

The fluid in your joints comprises a gel substance and gas, including oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. If you compress your joint and move close to the end of your range, there is often enough pressure to release this gas, resulting in a popping sound. Bones rubbing against each other will make a grinding sound.

And if your muscles and fascia are tight or there is an imbalance in muscle length or strength across a joint, you may hear clicking or even a pop as your tendons move over your bones or if your bones aren’t aligned during movement.

While joint noises like popping, clicking or grinding may seem concerning, especially if it is a new sound or occurring more frequently, it’s usually nothing to be alarmed about – unless you have pain.

What if you have pain?

If you’re experiencing physical pain alongside a strange noise, that’s a different story.  This means you’re irritating either the soft tissue surrounding the joint, or the joint itself, and you should probably get it checked out. 

Joint care 101

Regardless of whether you have pain with your joint noise, having a professional assess the way you move is great preventative medicine.   Physical therapists are a great place to start because analyzing movement is what we do!  An assessment may include muscle testing, range of motion testing and a functional movement screen.  A functional movement screen is a quick and thorough way to determine if you move ideally or have developed compensations that could result in strain to your joints.. 

Once you learn where you compensate or move non-optimally, you can begin to focus on key areas to maintain muscle balance and flexibility across your joints. 

There’s no guarantee the noise will go away, but at least you’ll know you’re not setting yourself up for injury.  

Prevention beats a cure

To stay on top of your fitness and health, don’t underestimate the value of movement.  Moving in a variety of ways is a great way to challenge your body and maintain a healthy balance of strength, flexibility, and motor control.  It’s equally important to do other things you’d consider healthy like staying hydrated, getting quality sleep and eating well.  Because if you don’t feel good, you won’t feel motivated to move!

Summary

Joint noise doesn’t always mean you’re in trouble.  But if you have concerns about strange sounds coming from your joints, seek professional guidance.

Remember, staying active and maintaining muscle balance are important for keeping your joints healthy throughout your life. Although there’s no perfect exercise prescription for maximal joint health, variety is the spice of life (and also good for your joints). So keep moving in lots of different ways to keep your joints happy! 

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