July 2021 Update
Why is my joint popping?
This month, we decided to answer one of our frequently asked questions that we get from patients: Why is my joint popping? There are several reasons why this could be the case. But the good news is, most popping noises are nothing to worry about and don’t necessarily mean anything problematic. In this article we will break down the different reasons your joint may be popping, what it means, and what to do about it.
The two questions to ask are: Was the pop painful? And can I reproduce the pop over and over again?
If the pop only happened once…
If the pop was painful, only happened once, and was caused by a trauma such as lifting, straining, or falling, this could be a sign of an injury and you should be evaluated as soon as possible and treated for the injury. This could mean you sprained a ligament, strained a muscle, injured a disc, or ruptured any of these structures. These types of pops are the most concerning and the ones that require medical care.
If your joint popped once and was not painful or even felt good, there is nothing to worry about and this scenario can even be a positive thing. These types of pops typically happen in the morning, when moving after being sedentary for a period of time, while stretching, or while foam rolling. These pops are a gas bubble forming in the joint, are part of normal joint function and metabolism, and are a sign of health.
If the pop is repetitive…
If your joint is popping repetitively, it can be a sign that a ligament or tendon is rolling over a bony prominence. These types of pops feel deeper and can be loud or feel like a “clunking.” This is common in the hip (particularly for women), knees, wrists, and ankles. These pops aren’t necessarily problematic on their own, but if done over and over again, can cause inflammation and tendonitis. If you have this type of pop, there are some things you can do to help: try avoiding activities that cause the pop, work with an SOSR team member on a customized rehab plan to include strengthening and stretching for your specific issue, and use ice if inflammation or irritation occurs.
If the joint is popping repetitively and sounds and feels more like a crackling or grinding sensation, it may be joint crepitus. Joint crepitus is common in the spine and can be a sign of arthritic or degenerative changes. This is commonly heard when you roll your neck. This type of joint popping can also be accompanied by compromised mobility or a feeling of the joint being “stuck.” If the crackling or grinding is not painful, avoid the activity that causes it, and maintain your exercise and stretching routine to ensure you retain your mobility long term. If this type of joint popping is painful, is limiting your mobility, or getting stuck, it should be evaluated further.
So, what’s the real takeaway here? The human body is a weird and wonderful machine that has some cool quirks, and sometimes that cracking sound when you move is just one of them. But, if it is concerning you or causing you pain, the SOSR team wants to help!