Dr. Dollinger: Snap, Crackle, Pop!

Why exactly do joints crack and pop? Well, I hate to say it, but nobody really knows. Of course, there are a few different popular theories.

  • One of the more popular theories is the “cavitation theory:” there is an envelope that surrounds the joint, called the synovium, and it is thought that partial vacuums form in small pockets in the joint. When the joint is moved in a specific way, it forces those pockets to move, which causes a cracking sound.
  • Another theory is that the ligaments that connect bone to bone within a joint could make the popping sound when they move quickly within the joint.
  • Lastly, joints can have nitrogen gas within the synovial fluid. So, this theory is that the cracking sound is produced when the nitrogen bubbles are quickly released from the synovial fluid.

All joints can crack: back, hips, neck, ankles, elbows, knees, knuckles, you name it. For the most part, cracking your joints should not be causing any major problems, and there is no definitive proof that cracking a joint will cause it to get arthritis later on. Just keep in mind, however, that cracking joints can be a sign of arthritis. But, for the most part, the occasional cracking of joints is normal.

If cracking a joint is ever painful or if it starts clicking or locking up, then you should see a doctor about it. Sometimes it can mean a tear in the meniscus of the knee, a flap of cartilage in the ankle could be stuck, or there could be a more serious problem with the tendons or ligaments in the hips or ankles.

And, for those of you who enjoy cracking your knuckles, well, just remember that not everybody likes listening to it…

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Beth Dollinger, click here to find her contact information listed in our provider directory.

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