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Do Creaking Joints Mean Arthritis? A Doctor Answers Questions on Popping Joints

DrSugar Answers: Creaky Joints?

DrSugar is in the house! And she's answering your health-related questions.

Hi! I had a question for DrSugar. I am wondering why my joints — knees and hips — are so squeaky and creaky. I don't feel any pain but I am curious if this might indicate potential problems later on? When I roll my shoulders, I feel like all of the little bones are rolling noisily together. I notice the creakiness in my hips and knees mostly when I'm stretching or doing yoga. Should I be concerned or do something to address this? Thanks!
—Concerned About Creaking

Well, as a 31-year-old former competitive gymnast, I can definitely relate to your symptoms, as I’ve been having them for quite some time in my hips, knees, and ankles. The snapping, the creaking, the popping and crunching sounds are ones I am quite familiar with! However, just like you, I don’t feel any pain or discomfort associated with my musical joints. I must admit, I had a great time doing more in-depth research on this topic because I too was wondering if I should be concerned or take proactive measures to address these issues. To learn more about the causes of creaky, squeaky joints, keep reading!

According to the University of Washington Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, joints can make different noises and some are due to serious conditions and some are not. Popping noises (such as the noise you hear with knuckle-cracking) are attributed to gases (usually nitrogen) that are displaced and enter the joint fluid that lubricates the joint. Typically this popping noise comes from a joint that is pushed or pulled in a certain way, and according to Yoga Journal, can happen when doing yoga poses. Typically, this type of joint noise is not caused by any serious underlying disorder.

Another type of joint noise occurs when tendons or ligaments cross over the joints they are attached to. These structures may pop or crack as they snap over the bony prominences around the joint. Individuals who "crack their neck" make noise in this way. Generally, this type of joint noise is not caused by any serious underlying disorder, as this noise is simply anatomic structures sliding into place.

Joints that have damage to the joint surface (the cartilage) can have cracking, crunching, or creaking joints. These noises usually occur each time the joint is moved and the noise is due to the roughness of the joint surface from the loss of joint cartilage. This type of joint noise, also known as crepitus, is usually a sign of some early degeneration of the joint surface, or even possibly arthritis. However, if there are no symptoms associated with this sound (swelling, pain, or warmth), then it is usually nothing to worry about but should still be monitored. As time goes on, the wear and tear on the joint surface can worsen and symptoms of arthritis can develop.

According to MedicineNet.com, that same crunchy sensation can occur in individuals with bursitis (inflammation of the cushion between joints and tendons/muscles) or tendinitis (inflammation of tendons) and the noise is due to the snapping of irregular, swollen tissues. One common location of this is the shoulder, where rotator cuff tendinitis or surrounding bursitis can cause a crunching, grinding sensation, especially when using the arm overhead. These conditions usually warrant a visit to your primary care physician so that a thorough history and physical examination can be done to rule this diagnosis out or for proper treatment options.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure which of the above conditions explain your joint noises, since there are so many types of noises and causes. As you seem to be concerned about what could be going on with your shoulders, knees, and hips, I would recommend that you visit your primary care physician for a thorough history and physical examination. Also, if you have swelling, pain, or a limited range of motion/function of your joints, you should get checked out by your primary care physician promptly for diagnosis and possible treatment.

Have a question for DrSugar? You can send it to me via private message here, and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

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