Do your joints sound like breakfast cereal because they snap, crackle, and pop? An audible knuckle, knee, ankle, back, or neck might have you wondering if you should worry. So we asked Miriam, MYX trainer and “professor in residence,” to help us understand what’s normal, and what isn’t, when it comes to joint health.
“The popping of joints is generally not dangerous or cause for concern,” Miriam says, “unless it’s accompanied by pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness, or a limited range of motion. Any of those symptoms is a red flag indicating you might have a problem. And that means you should seek medical attention.”
Cracking knee joints
A crunching sound in the knee is usually a sign of escaping gases, Miriam explains. “Healthy joints contain synovial fluid, which is a thick fluid to lubricate and cushion your joints. Nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide are present in this fluid. When you pop or crack your knuckles, for instance, you’re stretching the joint capsule and the gases form bubbles, making a crunchy sound.”
If you hear a snapping sound, Miriam explains you might be hearing your tendons and ligaments in the joint snapping back into place after you’ve moved them slightly out of position.
If you’re older and your joints have osteoarthritis, they might be noisy for a different reason. When you hear a grating sound, it’s probably because the cartilage joint surface has worn down. The bone surface is rough instead of the smoothness you had when you were younger, so you hear a grinding noise in your knees.
“If it’s a case of just noisy joints,” Miriam says, “it’s probably nothing serious. But if you’re hearing these noises along with pain, loss of motion, swelling or weakness, you should check with your doctor.”
One of the best ways to stop your joints from making noises is to get up and move because “motion is lotion.” Stretching and moving your joints helps to keep your muscles loose and joints moving more fluidly. “Stretching the muscles that connect to and surround your joints is a great way to alleviate muscle tightness and keep your joints lubricated,” according to Miriam. She recommends active stretching before your workout and foam rolling afterward to increase your joint health. Stretching offers more benefits, including boosting your energy, improving your posture, and increasing your flexibility.
If your knees are bothering you, Miriam suggests trying specific knee strengthening exercises like leg presses and low-impact cardio like cycling.
So if you’re a fan of popping your knuckles to relieve tension, or your knees predict rain, don’t worry. You can keep those joints happy — and quiet — with a steady diet of movement, stretching, and foam rolling.