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PREVENT

Snap Crackle Pop! What’s all that noise in your joints?

Walking around in the winter, you'll sometimes hear your bones creak and your joints pop. People often ask me what the noise is all about. In adults, most of the time the noise is harmless and comes from movement of the fluid in your joints. But if that creaking and popping is accompanied by pain, there might be a problem.

  • Fluid shift: This is the most common reason you'll hear noise in your joints. There is a membrane that surrounds joints, and it contains fluid to help the joint move smoothly. The noise is just the fluid shifting from one area of the joint to another.
  • Muscle weakness: If a person has muscle weakness in their upper legs, this can cause noise and discomfort in the knee joints. If you hear a loud "pop" this might indicate a meniscus tear (cartilage located in the knee), and you should see a doctor. Treatment options for muscle weakness include physical therapy exercises and electrical stimulation to strengthen quad muscles.
  • Irritated or swollen tendon: Tendons can become irritated, especially in areas of continuous movement like the joints. Treatment options include rest, ice, elevation, medicines to reduce swelling, limiting sports activities, exercise or surgery in cases of severe injury.
  • Worn cartilage: When cartilage wears down, bones can rub against each other. Treatment options include exercise and electronic stimulation to strengthen muscles or surgery in cases of severe injury.
  • Arthritis: If your joints are stiff and swollen when you hear the creaking noises, it could be arthritis. Treatment options for arthritis include gentle stretching, ice packs on sore areas, resting the joint and taking warm showers to relieve your symptoms.

If you're not sure about your creaking bones, see your doctor. They can do a thorough exam, discuss your symptoms and talk about your options for care, which may include a referral to an orthopedic specialist. As any doctor will tell you, we want people to keep moving and live their lives to the fullest – don't let aches and pains rule your life!

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