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  • Robert Drenning, PT, OCS,FAAOMPT

So Your Joints Make Noise. Here Is What It Really Means.

Does your shoulder pop or click? Do your knees grind like sandpaper when you go down stairs? For most of us, the answer is yes. This is a very common thing, and probably the most common question I get in the clinic. So I wanted to take a few minutes to address this for you today.

The first thing likely going through your mind: Is this bad? Does it cause arthritis? I have good news for you...a large majority of the time, the answer is no! There is no evidence showing that joint noises either lead to pain or arthritis later in life. So fear not! Noisy joints only mean that you won’t be able to sneak up on your family members. It is not a warning sign of any bad disease to come. Phew!

And on a related note, the same applies to cracking your knuckles, neck or back. Despite the many theories out there, we have no evidence showing us that this causes arthritis either. Sorry parents out there who wish their kids would stop…

So what causes our joints to make noise? This answer is not so simple. We have several possibilities here that I’ll try to outline below:

- Joint surfaces rubbing together: Doctors often call this ‘crepitus’. As mentioned above, this is likely a normal age-related finding. I doubt anyone over the age of 50 can get up in the morning and have perfect silence in their bodies. This usually is more of the grinding/rubbing feeling and happens most commonly in the knees and shoulders. However, if accompanied by a large clunk or pain, this may be indicative of more advanced degenerative changes and would benefit from being evaluated by a Physical Therapist. Remember, we can order x-rays for you now in Utah!

- Tendon rubbing on a bone: this is usually more of a snapping sensation, can be non-painful and occurs most often in the hip, knee or shoulder. This sensation is more likely to lead to pain or tendon breakdown in the future, especially in younger people. In this case, it is best to have a comprehensive evaluation done by a Physical Therapist to identify potential causes and the best course of action

- Gas release in a joint: these are the loud, audible single pops. These occur most often in the spine, shoulders, knees, and knuckles. Many people intentionally pop their joints and feel looser after. The most likely reason for this is the quick movement of the joint creating a gas bubble that pops and creates the sound. These are usually benign, as we discussed above.

Now, of course it’s worth mentioning that any joint noise accompanied by pain is NOT normal! If this is happening to you, please come and see us so we can help you get relief and keep your joints as healthy as possible! While I’ve outlined the most common causes of noises in our joints, there are other possibilities as well that can be indicative of a problem. And while most sounds are generally benign, there are exceptions to this as well. If you have any questions or concerns about the noises in your joints and what they are trying to tell you, please call or come by and we’ll be happy to help you figure it out!

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