The human body is capable of all kinds of noises. Some of us hear our joints popping and cracking just getting out of bed in the morning. Some people crack their joints on purpose, either because it feels good or it’s a comfortable habit. It turns out some joint noises are harmless, but others could signal a problem.

What does it mean when joints creak, crack, or pop?

John-Paul Rue M.D., orthopedics and sports medicine specialist, The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital at Mercy Medical Center, said there’s a difference between cracking and popping in joints and creaking joints.

“Cracking and popping (knuckle cracking) is not well understood.  One theory is that the noise is made from the popping of gas bubbles, like carbon dioxide or nitrogen, which may form in a joint due to the vacuum created by joints extending or pulling. Another theory is that the sudden creation of a cavity, or new space, within the joint actually makes the sound in the joint. Either way, knuckle cracking, popping, or snapping itself does not appear to be either harmful to the joint, or a marker of any specific disease or condition.”

Joints that creak, squeak, or grind, may be a different matter.

“Together, these words are often described as ‘crepitus,’ which may be a sign of degenerative changes, such as osteoarthritis, in a joint. With this condition, as joints wear out, the normal smooth cartilage may become thinner or irregular. As these worn out joint surfaces roll or glide across each other, the joint may make noise as the rough surfaces move past each other.”

I like to crack my joints. Is there any harm in that?

In a world of joint crackers and non-joint crackers, there’s bound to be some friction, especially when they share a home or office. Non-crackers may caution that you’re going to end up with arthritis or some other ailment. Maybe they believe it, but it’s just as likely they simply find it annoying and want you to stop.

“Other than possibly distracting those around you or causing your mother to cringe, cracking your own knuckles does not appear to be harmful,” said Rue. He pointed out a 2011 study concluding that habitual knuckle crackers did not have more arthritis in their hands than those who didn’t crack their knuckles.

Next time you’re taken to task for cracking, there’s your comeback. Not that it will be less annoying to those who detest the sound.

What are the signs that you should seek a medical opinion and why?

“Painless joint noises like popping joints or cracking knuckles do not by themselves require any specific evaluation or treatment,” said Rue. But you should see your doctor if you:

    have pain or swelling associated with creaking, squeaking, or grinding of your joints
    feel that the joint is getting stuck or locked in position

These could be signs of arthritis or other problems.

The bottom line: if you’re a joint cracker and it doesn’t hurt, swell, or cause any problems, then by all means crack away.

Source:   By:  Ann Pietrangelo