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Crunching, creaking, cracking: Your joints are talking to you, should you be worried?


The simple answer is no*: As long as there is no pain associated with the noise your joints are making while you move, there is no significant cause for concern. We will get to the * in a couple of paragraphs. It is extremely rare for those pain-free creaking and cracking noises to mean that something is wrong with your joints, that you are broken or damaged, or that you should stop moving, often the exact opposite!


So, why are your joints talking to you? There are a few reasons why your joints make those noises, but basically the most common one is that when you move you’re popping air bubbles that have formed inside your joints.


All of your joints are lubricated by joint fluid (called synovial fluid). It helps you to move smoothly and it contains nutrients for the cartilage that covers the surface of your bones. Over time gasses, in particular nitrogen, build up in the joint fluid and bubbles. When you move, your muscles contract in order to facilitate the movement between the bones that make up the joint and sometimes this results in the popping of the gas bubbles which makes the noise. That is often why you can easily crack your fingers loudly once, but when you go to do it a second time you can’t produce the same sound again - you’ve popped the bubbles and you have to wait for them to build up again before you will be able to repeat the sound. Often those large pops that happen when you’re being adjusted by your chiropractor are the result of your chiro assisting your joints to pop the gas bubbles around your joints.


And now to address the *: there are exceptions to every rule, and we would be remiss as therapists not to acknowledge that exceptions exist, so although pain- free cracking is common and not cause for concern, if it is worsening or has started suddenly after a fall or injury, or occasionally comes along with pain, please consult with your health care professional. It’s important to be assessed and either diagnosed or able to rule out there being anything serious going on. Early intervention is good for your peace of mind, as well as helping to prevent future issues.


Conditions like osteoarthritis and patellofemoral syndrome can cause pain along with noise, and are very manageable with specific appropriate exercise, especially when caught early. When the noise and pain also comes with a ‘twangy’ sensation, it can be an indication of a muscle imbalance surrounding the joint. Although having a muscle imbalance sounds daunting, with care and exercise it can often be corrected. There are a variety of conditions that can cause your body to start chatting to you, many of which can be treated or managed with minimal effort or intervention once you know what is going on. In general, if moving causes pain, whether it’s noisy or not, you should consult with your health care professional.

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