What Causes Popping Joints?
Do you walk up the stairs and it sounds like "snap, crackle, and pop?" What about when you squat? Knees and ankles are the most common joints to pop, but all joints can make this noise. Popping knuckles is different—that is a self-induced, annoying habit. But what about involuntary popping in your knees?
According to the John Hopkins Orthopedic Surgery unit, there is not an agreed upon scientific reason for this occurrence. Instead, there are two hypotheses associated with this condition. The first attributes the noise to ligaments getting pulled tight as the joint is in motion. The popping may occur when the tendon snaps over or around the joint. The second theory is that the fluid in the joint contains nitrogen bubbles, which are rapidly forced in or out of the fluid when the joint is purposefully made to pop, like cracking knuckles.
When My Knee Pops, Is it Harmful?
The sound of cracking and popping in joints—whether it happens involuntarily when you are climbing stairs or when popping your knuckles to pass time—is nothing to be concerned about unless you are experiencing pain. Pain, swelling, and loss of range of motion are all symptoms that need to be medically evaluated.
If Not in Pain, Take the Stairs
How Do I Make My Joints Stop Popping?
Again, the popping sound itself is not a problem to be concerned with if you are not experiencing pain. While there are exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the joints, there is no known exercise that will stop the involuntary popping of joints. Certain supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin may help restore healthy joints and provide some arthritis relief, but they will not eliminate the popping sounds.
What Is Chondromalacia Patella?
Chondromalacia patella is damage to the cartilage under the kneecap. It is a condition that I have had for many years. The cartilage under your kneecap, or patella, can deteriorate from overuse, sports injuries, and misalignment, among other conditions. The cartilage acts as a natural shock absorber in the knee. When this "cushion" becomes damaged, pain may be felt in the kneecap when squatting or climbing stairs. In addition, a grinding or grating sound can sometimes accompany this motion. This should be treated differently than the popping or cracking noise with no pain, as described previously.
Chondromalacia patella is common in teens and young adults. Typically knee problems in older adults are caused by arthritis. According to the Mayo Clinic, women are twice as likely to suffer from this condition than men. One possible explanation for this is that a woman has wider hips which increases the angle at which the bones in the knee joint connect. Aerobic sports such as running, jump rope and tennis can put extra stress on your knees. Be sure to ramp up all exercise gradually.
Popping vs. Grating Joints
The bottom line is this: it is not the sound the joint makes, but the pain associated with it that is concerning. If you are pain free, pop away. If not, go have your joints checked by an orthopedic specialist.
Do Your Joints Involuntarily Pop?
Sources of Information
John Hopkins Orthopedic Surgery: http://www.hopkinsortho.org
The Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chondromalacia-patella/DS00777