Bare feet on the floor as man steps out of bed, an example when you might hear cracking and popping noises in joints.


The reason behind that cracking noise in your joints

  • The creaking and popping noises you hear in your joints, like when cracking knuckles, are caused by the formation of gas bubbles in joint fluid.
  • A knee joint pop may indicate a meniscus tear due to muscle weakness, needing prompt medical attention.
  • Stiff, swollen joints with creaking sounds may suggest arthritis.

When walking around or going up and down stairs, 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 when creaking and popping is accompanied by pain, there might be a problem.

Symptoms and treatment options

  • Air bubbles in joint fluid: This is the most common reason you'll hear cracking noises in your joints. There is a membrane that surrounds joints, and it contains fluid to help the joint move smoothly. During movement, low in the joint space allows a gas bubble to form.  A study in 2015 revealed that it is actually the formation of these gas bubbles that causes the sound, not the bursting of the bubble. This is the noise commonly heard when someone cracks their knuckles. There are no treatment options needed for air bubbles in your joint fluid.
  • Muscle weakness: If you have muscle weakness in your 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: Muscles and tendons become less flexible over time and we may hear noise when stiff muscles or tendons snap over normal bony bumps surrounding our joints. 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.
  • Arthritis/loss of normal joint cartilage: 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, over the counter medications, injections, and taking warm showers to relieve your symptoms. 

When to seek treatment

If you're not sure about your creaking bones, see an orthopedic provider. They can do a thorough exam, discuss your symptoms and talk about your options for care. 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!

Experiencing creaky bones or joint pain? Schedule an appointment with an orthopedic or sports medicine specialist to create a care plan right for you.


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