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Why are my joints always ‘clicking’ and is it something to worry about?

Have you ever started a set of squats and your knee cracks like a whip? Sometimes it makes everybody in the room turn their heads, concerned that the noise your body just made sounded like you snapped something in half. You make a face as if it was painful even though you’re not sure if it was.

The clicking and grinding of certain joints is a concern that often gets flagged by clients when they come for a physical assessment or when they are asked how certain movements feel. The knee, hip and shoulder are the usual suspects with some instances causing pain and others not.

Today we want to try and set the story straight on what these noises mean.

A joint is made up of bones, ligaments, tendons, joint capsules filled with synovial fluid, and bursae. The snap, crackle or pop you may hear from a joint is known as crepitus. These noises don’t sound great, but they are generally not accompanied by pain. They can be caused by any of the following:

  1. The release of built-up air bubbles within the bursa
  2. The ligaments and tendons passing over each other or a bony portion within the joint
  3. The natural age-related changes of the joint

The good news is, that none of these things are anything to worry about and should not cause you to shy away from certain movements or loads. There is no damage occurring in the joint when you hear these sounds. In fact, in the long run, it is probably more harmful to miss out on the gains by stopping such exercise!

We often hear people say, “But I’m pretty sure the sounds are related to arthritis; my joint is breaking down”.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a scary word that is often used to describe age related changes that happen at a joint. We put our bodies through a lot of fun and games over the years and we cannot expect to maintain the joints of a 16-year-old at the end of it all. The ‘grinding of bone on bone’ that haunts us is essentially the natural loss of some of our joints ‘cushioning’ that happens because of ageing.

So, when should I be concerned?

Whilst most of the time these noises are harmless, there are some instances where things might need to be investigated further. When clicking, cracking, popping, or snapping is accompanied by:

  • Pain
  • Swelling, heat or redness at the joint
  • If there has been a traumatic event associated e.g., the ‘pop’ of an ACL injury with a tackle.

This may warrant a trip to the GP, Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist (EP) to find out more information on how to manage and improve pain. Management of these concerns is usually exercise based and luckily for you, we have some great Physio’s and EP’s at SOF who can help you out.

So, at the end of the day – if the snap, crackle, and pop isn’t causing any pain, roll with it. If it is, ask one of us at SOF to help you or go to your nearest health care professional for further assessment.