We’ve all experienced it every now and then, the snap, crackle and pop of joints that sends shivers through the spines of some. But, why do our joints crack?

Turning our heads too fast, rotating our ankles and sometimes even just standing up can cause our joints to crack. This can be a loud and disconcerting occurrence often leading to worry that something is wrong.

You may experience these cracks, pops and snaps in any of the following areas:

• Shoulders
• Elbows
• Hands
• Wrists
• Hips
• Feet
• Ankles
• Knees
• Jaw

Luckily these noises are usually nothing to worry about and completely normal. However, if they are accompanied by pain or swelling a trip to your doctor may be warranted.


Why do my joints crack?

• Escaping gas
When cracking knuckles the popping noise is largely due to compressed gas bubbles. Synovial fluid that is present in your joints acts as a lubricant, containing oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. When our we crack our knuckles these gas bubbles are released rapidly, causing a loud noise.

• Movement
Cracking joints can affect any age group and can come and go depending on your sitting and sleeping position and general movements. The popping or high-pitched snapping noise can be due to fluid-filled sacs within the joints getting stretched by a sudden change in the joint’s position.

• Rough surfaces
As we age our joints can get noisier as the cartilage wears away. Ageing joint surfaces become rougher, making noises when they rub against each other. This is another completely normal part of the ageing process.

• Repetitive motion
Even young, fit and healthy individuals can experience harmless joint cracking. One potential cause may be repetitive exercises at the gym. This can often indicate that your muscles are tight and rubbing which causes friction around the bone.

If you are experiencing a lot of painless cracks and pops at the gym try gentle stretches before and after exercise.

Cracking joints = arthritis?

Many believe that those whose joints crack often are more susceptible to arthritis. The good news is that this old wives’ tale claiming that cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis is completely unfounded. As long as the cracking is not accompanied by any pain or swelling it’s harmless and you shouldn’t lose sleep worrying about it.

If you have noticed increased joint noises from specific areas that does not improve with stretching or that become painful, it may be worth seeking medical advice.

How to avoid the pops?

If you’re bothered by joint noises the best way to avoid these cracks and pops is to get moving. The more you move the more your body lubricates itself, meaning less joint cracking.