Are popping joints a sign of disease?

by / Tuesday, 30 July 2019 / Published in Blog

Joints can emit many noises, often described as popping, snapping or catching. These noises are termed “crepitus”, meaning “to rattle”. People can experience crepitus at any age, but it is more common with seniors.

What causes noises in the joints?

Popping noises are usually caused due to air bubbles forming in the joint spaces, where there is a layer of fluid separating two bones. Joints may be forced apart during everyday movements, or intentionally, such as by an osteopath. As a result, the low pressure in the joint space causes gases within the synovial fluid to form a gas cavity. These gases are oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The noise may alarm you but it is rarely a sign of something wrong.

Is popping and cracking in joints a sign of disease?

Cracking your knuckles won’t cause arthritis. Those with the ability to extend joints outside the normal range of movement, also known as joint hypermobility, often experience crepitus. This is because their joints can easily stretch further apart, allowing an air cavity to form. Joint hypermobility is very common.

Several studies have shown that if you crack your joints, you will NOT give yourself arthritis.

At joints, the surfaces of bones, that come close, are covered by a layer of cartilage. This cartilage acts as a cushion and eases the gliding or movement between the two bones. But in joint diseases, such as osteoarthritis, the cartilage is worn out. This causes the bones to come in direct contact with one another, resulting in an unpleasant, painful, grinding sensation and noise. Arthritis is a degenerative disease and needs to be properly treated.

Noisy joints are common. Often the cause is not pathological. But any noise from the joint over a prolonged period, or noise accompanied by pain, should be examined by an orthopedic doctor.