By Registered Osteopath Dr Tayla Rhodes
B.Sci (Clin.Sci) M.H.S.(Osteo)
Whether you’re older or younger our joints can make noise! But why?
The snap, crackle and pop of joints is more commonly nothing to be alarmed about. It can definitely be annoying, preventing midnight fridge raids or sneaking up behind someone but there are a few possible explanations for these physiological occurrences.
- Age related changes within joints can see the degeneration of cartilage, normal “wear and tear”. This can lead to exposure of rougher surfaces (i.e. bone), causing more friction and therefore, more noise. This isn’t all bad – these age related changes are normal and happen to all of us to varying degrees. They’re also often not a cause of pain – for instance, our skin changes as we age, and wrinkles don’t hurt. As such, age related joint changes can be thought of as akin to “wrinkles on the inside” – albeit, noisy ones!
- Muscles and tendons can also be noisy neighbours to our joints especially when tight. Tight muscles can again cause friction on surrounding structures producing similar sounds to snapping or popping.
- Nitrogen – bet you weren’t expecting a chemistry lesson, but the body functions through chemical processes. Nitrogen bubbles form within joint spaces. When a joint is placed under tension, much like when an Osteopath sets up a joint for cavitation/manipulation. The popping sound is the release of the bubble. Nitrogen takes a little while to build up within these spaces following release and this is why you often cannot “crack” your fingers, neck or back repeatedly.
When these audible events occur in the company of pain or swelling, this is when there may be cause for further investigation.
The bottom line – noisy joints aren’t necessarily indicative of damage!