What Does It Mean When Your Joints Crack?

Is cracking of joints such as the knee a cause for concern? Find out what causes this common symptom and whether you need to have it evaluated.

Have you ever bent down to pick up something and heard a cracking sound coming from your knees? That harsh, grating sound can make you suddenly feel very old. The good news is the sound of cracking joints isn’t restricted to older people or those with orthopedic problems on their “last leg”. Cracking in joints is also heard in healthy young people and can occur for a variety of reasons. Here’s how to understand why this symptoms occurs and what it means.

Cracking in joints such as the knees, elbows, wrists, and elbows can arise from a normal, non-arthritic joint. When you move a joint such as the knee, the tendon which overly and stabilize a joint such as the knee also moves slightly which can create a cracking sound as it slides back into place. This is seen in people of all ages and isn’t a sign of disease or orthopedic problems, although it can be disconcerting when it happens.

If cracking in joints such as the knee is pain-free, there’s usually no cause for concern. On the other hand, cracking in joints that’s associated with pain, stiffness, or decreased range of motion can indicate underlying joint problems.

One common cause of cracking in the knee joint is a condition known as chondromalacia patella. This is a condition where the cartilage under the kneecap softens and becomes damaged. This is more commonly seen in active people who have slight abnormalities in their knee alignment that makes the kneecap “track” differently causing pain and inflammation. In addition to cracking of the joints, there may be knee pain when going up and down stairs and when kneeling, as well as joint stiffness. Exercises to strengthen the thigh muscles along with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications usually improve this condition. Physical therapy may be needed in some cases.

Cracking of joints that’s associated with pain can also be a sign of cartilage damage. Cartilage normally surrounds bone and is immersed in a sea of synovial fluid to protect it. With aging, the cartilage starts to deteriorate – leading to the familiar cracking sound when squatting or moving a joint quickly. This usually doesn’t require treatment if it’s not associated with significant pain or stiffness, but could be a sign of early joint problems.

When cracking of joints occurs frequently along with stiffness, pain, or tenderness, it could be an indication of osteoarthritis of the knee. As osteoarthritis of a joint such as the knee progresses it can lead to swelling and joint deformity, finally culminating in reduced joint function. Anytime a joint that makes a cracking sound is stiff, painful, or swollen, it needs evaluation. Getting early treatment of conditions such as osteoarthritis may help to reduce inflammation and further joint damage.

The bottom line? Cracking of joints isn’t necessarily a sign of disease, but if it cracks and hurts, it’s time to see a doctor.

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