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What Causes Popping Joints?

Laura is a longtime online writer. Her articles focus on everything from sports to gardening to cooking.

Right knee-joint, from the front, showing interior ligaments.

Right knee-joint, from the front, showing interior ligaments.

Do Your Joints Pop?

When you walk up the stairs, does it sound 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.

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.

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.

Sources of Information

John Hopkins Orthopedic Surgery:

The Mayo Clinic:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


LauraGSpeaks (author) from Raleigh, NC on January 02, 2013:

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

lemonkerdz from LIMA, PERU on January 02, 2013:

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 (author) from Raleigh, NC on October 23, 2012:

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 Schultz from United States on October 21, 2012:

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 (author) from Raleigh, NC on October 19, 2012:

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 from New Jersey on October 19, 2012:

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

iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on October 18, 2012:

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 from United States on October 18, 2012:

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

Oh goodness thanks for that. :)

Joanie Ruppel from Texas on October 17, 2012:

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

LauraGSpeaks (author) from Raleigh, NC on October 17, 2012:

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 (author) from Raleigh, NC on October 16, 2012:

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!

Fiddleman on October 16, 2012:

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.

Linda from Texas on October 16, 2012:

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 from Georgia on October 16, 2012:

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.

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on October 16, 2012:

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

Mary Kelly Godley from Ireland on October 16, 2012:

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 (author) from Raleigh, NC on October 16, 2012:

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

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 16, 2012:

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!

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