Joint popping, while mostly harmless, can be a warning sign of a larger problem.
Cracking your knuckles is something many of us do absent-mindedly. As an orthopaedic surgeon, I am constantly asked whether or not this practice is bad for the joints, and if it can lead to arthritis. I am also asked about a myriad of other clicking noises, and whether or not they can affect physical fitness and participation in sports.
In general, the normal popping of joints is not a cause for concern, and as you age your joints may begin to make some noises that while alarming, aren’t a risk to your health. To understand what I mean however, first we have to discuss what joint-popping actually is.
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The synovial joints in our body (meaning the joints that allow for range of movement) are surrounded by capsule filled with fluid. The point of this synovial fluid is to lubricate the space between the cartilage at the end of our bones. When the pressure in this fluid and the gases within it change, it causes cavities, which cause popping noises. Those gases have to reabsorb into your body, which is why you can’t immediately crack your joints again.
Clicking noises in other joints can have to do with connective tissue alignment or damage, especially if the noises are repetitive. This can happen for many reasons, but as long as there is no accompanying pain, there is no real cause for concern.
The rule of thumb with joint-pops and cracks is that as long as it doesn’t hurt, you should be all right, and it shouldn’t prevent you from exercising or engaging in sports. If you do pop a joint and feel an immediate sharp pain, swelling, or bruising, you may have torn some scar tissue. If the pain persists, you should see a doctor.
As with anything else, if you have any pain whatsoever, it is worth exploring more. In the instance of joint-pops however, it is best to ignore your ears.
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