Why Do My Joints Make Noise ― Clicking and Popping?

The short answer from an orthopaedic surgeon
Older women performing lunges during exercise class

Q: My joints make clicking and popping sounds. Why is that?

A: Bones and joints can make grinding, creaking, clicking, popping and other noises, which can occur at any age but become more common as we get older. The medical term is crepitus, and there can be several causes.

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If you’re just hearing some noise and there’s no pain, swelling or other symptoms, don’t be alarmed. If you are having other symptoms, you should get it checked out.

The underlying issue with noisy joints may relate to tendons (which connect muscle to bone), ligaments (which connect bones to other bones), or cartilage (the smooth covering over the ends of bones in joints). The knee generally is the noisiest joint, but other joints can also develop sounds, including the hip, shoulder, neck and spine.

Here are some possible reasons for the noise:

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  • A tendon or ligament may snap over a bony bump.
  • A ligament can tighten with movement.
  • Air bubbles inside the joint can pop.
  • Muscle tightness in the neck can cause it to grind with movement.
  • Cartilage can wear away, causing rough areas. This is osteoarthritis and it can result in the bones no longer gliding smoothly against each other. As a result, the joint can make a grinding or crunching sound. 

Osteoarthritis doesn’t always cause pain and stiffness. However, if your nonpainful knees become noisy, don’t be surprised if you eventually do have some symptoms. A study published in Arthritis Care & Research found that more than 75 percent of people who developed knee osteoarthritis reported grating, cracking, or popping sounds in or around their knee joint in the year leading up to developing symptoms.

― Orthopaedic surgeon Steven Maschke, MD

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