Why do joints click?

Do your joints click and pop? Don't worry, this is perfectly normal, says physiotherapist Caoimhe McNamara, as long as the noise is pain free.

Why do joints click?

We’ve all experienced joints clicking: a neck that clicks when we look over our shoulder, knees that snap when we stand up, finger knuckles that crack when you make a fist, and shoulders that pop when you reach for something. And even though the sound is quite often pain-free, it can be loud and worrying – loud enough even for others to hear!

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However, if this popping and clicking is pain-free, it is considered normal. If, for any reason, you experience pain or swelling with your talkative joints, this warrants further attention with a medical professional.

Why do joints click?

While we do know that it’s nothing serious, and doesn’t cause any harm, the honest answer is that there’s no clear scientific answer for why our joints can click and pop. There are a number of different theories: the noise is from nitrogen bubbles escaping in the joint, from bubbles in the synovial fluid of the joint, or from tendons and ligaments passing over each other or bony surfaces of the joint.

Are joints clicking a symptom of something more serious?

Don’t believe the old wives tale that clicking/cracking joints will cause arthritis or bigger joints. Unless this sound is accompanied by pain, swelling or signs of inflammation it’s considered normal and is nothing to worry about. Should you experience pain, discomfort or swelling with the popping then do reach out to your local physiotherapist or doctor as an assessment would then be warranted to rule out any injury.

How can you stop joints clicking?

Motion is lotion! Gentle regular movement, which can include stretches, mobility exercises, body weight strength work and light weights will all help. The more active you are, the more your joints move and lubricate themselves. As an athlete, identifying areas of your body that are restricted in range of movement, or have a tendency to get stiffer or tighter, and then addressing this with mobility work, will often help.

If you have any concerns at all, like with any health issue, always seek medical advice from a qualified medical practitioner, whether that’s a doctor, physiotherapist or pharmacist. 

Caoimhe McNamara is consultant physiotherapist at Six Physio

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Top image credit: Getty Images