Do Your Joints Crack or Click?

Do your knees make cracking noises when you stand up? Should you be worried? The short answer is that if you’re not experiencing pain or swelling, no. Experts used to think that cracking your joints caused arthritis, but the latest research shows no such link.

These sounds happen for a few reasons. When you stand up, there is a change in load onto your joints. This can cause the gases in the fluid that lubricates your knees to form bubbles that pop. This fluid is called synovial fluid and is normally a thick, straw coloured liquid found in small amounts in joints, bursa (fluid-filled sacs in the joints), and tendon sheaths.

Another culprit is that as you age, the cartilage that cushions joints becomes uneven in places, so you might hear rough spots gliding over one another. This happens due to long standing muscular imbalances, causing mal-alignment of the hip, knee and ankle joints. The proximal end of the femur, patella and second toe aren’t tracking properly when you are performing certain movement patterns such as squats, lunges or when walking. The cracking noises you hear may also be the ligaments – tissues that connect bones – tightening.

Painful popping, however, can signal osteoarthritis, which is when the cartilage degenerates, causing friction in the joints.

You may also experience:
  • Deep, aching pain, which is experienced after weight bearing activities
  • Joint swelling or deformity
  • Joint stiffness on awakening (lasts less than 30 minutes)
  • Weakness (atrophy) in the muscles
  • Tenderness to touch

Treatment is a combination of: correcting postural alignment; undergoing an individualised strengthening program of the muscles surrounding the joint; and weight loss (if you’re overweight). If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, it’s time to book in with your local Accredited Exercise Physiologist, who will design an individualised exercise program to address the biomechanics deficiencies that may be causing your joint pain, as well as assisting you in managing any other conditions.

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