It’s happened to almost everyone. You’re sitting in a quiet room and raise your hands above your head for a good stretch. A loud crack disturbs the silence, causing concerned stares from others in the room. Joints cracking and popping this way isn’t uncommon—and sometimes the noise can be rather jarring—but in general, it’s a harmless occurrence. In fact, you may even feel relieved by the popping sensation.

What’s happening when your joints pop?

Sounds such as your knuckles or neck popping come from gasses that build up in the synovial fluid that helps lubricate the joints. When you move in certain ways, the nitrogen gas is released, and the popping noise occurs. Other creaks and cracks may come from areas where cartilage has been worn down, so more friction occurs during movement. Repetitive exercises can also cause softer popping sounds caused by tight muscles. Light, gentle stretching is a good way to silence your joints and keep them more flexible and mobile over time.

Loud noise from your joints is okay. Pain is not.

Most often, popping joints are no cause for concern. It’s especially common with age. However, if popping or cracking is accompanied by pain, tightness, or soreness, you should take it easy on activity until you can see a doctor. If you have sudden severe pain accompanied by popping, get medical care right away, as this may be the sign of a sprain or even a torn ligament or tendon.

When you need immediate care for joint pain, MeMD can connect you virtually to a medical provider, right away. You can also turn to us for men’s and women’s health services to help you stay healthy and well at any age.

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