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What Causes Popping Joints?

Updated on November 18, 2017
Right knee-joint, from the front, showing interior ligaments.
Right knee-joint, from the front, showing interior ligaments. | Source

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

These famous steps leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art can be painful for arthritis sufferers.
These famous steps leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art can be painful for arthritis sufferers. | Source

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.

X-ray of the knee joint
X-ray of the knee joint | Source

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?

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Sources of Information

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    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
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      LauraGSpeaks 4 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      lemonkerdz, you are right--I think MANY people have popping joints. I hope your wife has no pain associated with the popping.

    • lemonkerdz profile image

      lemonkerdz 4 years ago from TRUJILLO, PERU

      Interesting to see your voting results as to how many people have popping joints, my wife has it every time she has been sat down and then gets up, she just waits for it to happen, great info not to worry too much about it. much apreciated

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
      Author

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Angela, my knees pop all by themselves, but I am guilty of making my knuckles crack. You are right--it DOES feel good to crack them!

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      I am a chronic knuckle cracker. I wish I would stop, but I do it so subconciously, I'm not even aware that I do it until someone else points it out. I swear it feels better once you do it!

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
      Author

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      john54, glad you found the info useful. idigwebsites, thanks for stopping by. iguidenetwork, it can get noisy in a quiet place when you fold your legs!

    • GiblinGirl profile image

      GiblinGirl 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Interesting hub. I do experience some popping noises occasionally - good to know that there's nothing to worry about. Thanks.

    • iguidenetwork profile image

      iguidenetwork 5 years ago from Austin, TX

      Great info, and I always hear popping sounds whenever I fold my legs. Fortunately, there has been no pain yet, so there's nothing to worry. However, I will keep this for future reference. Thanks :)

    • idigwebsites profile image

      idigwebsites 5 years ago from United States

      "...the popping sound itself is not a problem to be concerned with if you are not experiencing pain"

      Oh goodness thanks for that. :)

    • johnr54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 5 years ago from Texas

      I have always wondered about this but never asked my doctor. Thanks much! I'll keep popping away!

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
      Author

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Thanks for stopping by writingowl and GoodLady. Crystal, as long as your back popped without pain, it is likely fine. Sometimes, my neck pops too--then it feels better. Thanks for reading!

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
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      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Fiddleman, I am so glad you have found some relief for your RA. I have OA and have worn away most of my cartilage in my knees. My doc told me a long time ago to prevent replacement surgery as long as I can I have to keep my quads strong and keep my weight off. I am in my 40s but imagine by the time I hit my 50s or 60s I will be having replacement surgery. lindalou, I hope you get relief for your knees soon!

    • profile image

      Fiddleman 5 years ago

      In my early 50's my knees sounded as though I was walking on bubble wrap. Honestly, I could have never sneaked up on anyone and the pain was excruciating. After an arthroscopic surgery on both knees, a year and a half later, i had bi-lateral knee replacements. It was discovered then that I have RA which now is in dormancy with the newer drugs for treating my condition. I think most everyone can pop their knuckles and though not harmful or creating damage, I believe the explanation presented here is correct.

    • lindalou1963 profile image

      Linda 5 years ago from Texas

      Not only do mine pop, they grind. I have constant pain in both knees and.... well, I won't go on with the pity me story! I don't have insurance but I've found a state agency that will help pay for surgery, once they decide if I'm qualified. My right knee will probably need replacing.. with the pain I have, I almost look forward to having a new knee!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      Never knew what causes those popping sounds. Very informative. My neck pops quite a bit! I actually used to have my little cousin stand on my back and pop it for me - not sure if that was a good idea or not! Voted up.

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Good to know that popping without pain isn't anything to worry about. I have pain and no popping! (I'd love to run up those stairs again!!)

      Very helpful Hub and the video is terrific. Voting and sharing

    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 5 years ago from Ireland

      Interesting Hub, yes my joints click from time to time and I have often wondered what causes it and whether it is anything to be concerned about. Good to know it isn't.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
      Author

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      billybuc, you are lucky-- I make all kinds of racket! Thanks for reading.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very rarely does this happen to me. I've heard people whose joints pop all the time, and started wondering if there was something wrong with me because mine didn't. LOL Good, useful hub!