Hearing a crackle or pop while you're exercising can be alarming. Although creaky joints are unnerving, in most cases they are not cause for worry. Aging is a common cause of cracking and popping joints during exercise, as is weight gain. As long as the cracking is not accompanied by pain or swelling, there is no reason for immediate concern. But if there is pain or a previous injury is acting up, a visit to your doctor is a good idea.
Creaky Joints and Aging
Even if you're still in your 30s, your joints are not as young as they used to be. As you age, some of the cartilage that covers the ends of bones where they meet in a joint wears away. Because the surfaces are a little less padded and bit rougher, your bones make more noise as they move against each other.
For example, if you hear knee cracking sounds during exercises like squats, it could be that your patella (kneecap) is coming into contact with your tibia (shinbone). This sounds bad, but it's normal and common — and nothing to worry about.
Other Reasons for Creaky Joints
There are several other benign causes of clicking in joints when working out. Gases in synovial fluid — the substance that lubricates joints — can form bubbles that make a popping sound when the air escapes. This is the noise you hear when you crack your knuckles, for example.
A tight muscle moving around a bone could cause friction, resulting in a light clicking or popping sound. Tendons rubbing bones can also cause this sound. While this isn't ideal, it can be helped by stretching.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, carrying extra weight can increase by four times the pressure in your knee joints. This makes your bones more likely to rub together and make noise. Over time, too much weight can put extra wear and tear on your joints.
Read more: The Best Sources of Collagen for Joints
When to See a Doctor
Pain and inflammation are always a sure sign that something is wrong. Even if it's just a slight twinge when you're doing a deep squat, it could be the start of a bigger problem. It could also be an old injury acting up. If any pain accompanies your joint cracking during exercise, it's important to stop the activity. Although it might be temporary inflammation causing the pain, it's a good idea to visit your doctor to rule out other joint issues that could get worse over time.
Similarly, if you notice an increase in joint popping accompanied by pain or inflammation after exercise, don't resume activity until you've discovered the reason, along with a solution.
Fix Your Creaky Joints
If your joint noises are caused by excess weight, embark on a diet and exercise plan to help you lose the weight. The Arthritis Foundation reports that losing even 11 pounds can improve joint health.
One of the best ways for people of all ages to improve joint health is to strength train. Building muscle helps support and stabilize your joints and improves joint space integrity, which can reduce friction. Before you work out, warm up properly and do some light stretching, which may prevent some of the cracking and popping you hear while exercising.
Along with weight loss and strength training, simply moving more can help creaky joints. When you move, your joints produce synovial fluid that lubricates the joints and reduces friction. Move around as much as possible during the day and stay active.
For the long-term health of your joints, be sure to get enough vitamin D and calcium, which strengthen bones and joints and protect against bone degeneration. This will help keep your joints healthy as you age. If you're not sure if you're getting enough of these nutrients, talk to your doctor.
Read more: Causes of Sudden Joint Pain
Is This an Emergency?
- Cleveland Clinic: Snap, Crackle, Pop: What You Need to Know About Joint Noises
- Cleveland.com: Those cracking sounds during exercise might your body saying, 'Take it easy': the You Docs
- Arthritis Foundation: 51 Ways to Be Good to Your Joints
- WebMD: Caring for Your Joints
- National Osteoporosis Foundation: Calcium/Vitamin D