What's the crack?

Clients that I have had over the years have often asked the same question of ‘oh I feel a clicking when I do that movement, what is it?’ or 'What does that pop noise mean?' 

There are many reasons why different parts of the body may click, pop, crack, clunk, snap or crunch. Many of these noises are harmless, however there are some situations where seeing a specialist is particularly important. This is when those noises you are hearing are painful when it initially happens or when there is a constant pain after you have made the noise. Below are a list of different of the most common noises that people may come across and what they actually are.

The Click, or Pop

This is a common noise people have described as a loud click or crack noise on the movement of a particular joint. Most commonly in the hips or knees when you have been in a seated position for a while, but most likely when you get out of bed first thing in the morning. In many cases, this happens naturally and without intention, these “clicks” are generally pain free and nothing to be concerned about, if anything they usually act as a relief and feel good after for many people. I personally feel it first thing in the morning when I give my back and knees a good pop.

The reason for this noise is a result of rapid fluid movement within the joint. Joints are filled with fluid, known as the synovial fluid. There are various gases dissolved in the synovial fluid and often when the joint is moved rapidly, or to the end of its range, the gases become concentrated into bubbles within the fluid. The click or crack is the sound of those gas bubbles popping within the joint and is pain free. When a physiotherapist / or chiropractor performs a joint manipulation (or “cracks a joint”), the noise that is heard is simply gas bubbles popping as the joint capsule is stretched. So you can rest easy knowing that if it is pain free and happens now and again you are fine. However, if your joints crack spontaneously and it is not pain free, you should seek advice from a health care professional.

The Crunch

Crunching joints are often associated with a feeling of grinding and stiffness when they are being moved and is often worse when there is a load (weight) going through that joint. In the medical world the fancy name for this is Crepitus. Crepitus is more common in joints that have had some joint surface changes over time, such as a decrease in cartilage thickness or bony changes, such as arthritis. Crepitus can either be painful or pain free depending on each person and the health of their joint. If you think you have crepitus or are experiencing crunching in the joint, it is important that you get it assessed by a health care professional. This is more so as a preventative measure that should aid any further damage / potential injuries.

The Snap, Clunk or Flick

From my experience, a snap or a clunk is commonly heard in dancers or gymnasts and commonly occurs when lowering the leg from a high kick. This type of noise and feeling can happen anywhere in the body, but it is most common in the hip and shoulder, this is because these are the two most mobile joints of the body. This noise is generally caused by tendons flicking over the joint when they cannot cope with the load going through them. More often then not, this clunk or snap is pain free, however it may also be painful. If you are experiencing either a pain free or painful click it is important to have it assessed as a pain free clunk can quickly progress to becoming painful.

If muscles and tendons are not coping with load effectively, they are at an increased risk of developing an injury or tendinopathy, which can potentially take weeks to months to recover from. This phenomenon can be managed by a (qualified / experienced) personal trainer or  physiotherapist with specific exercises to improve biomechanical alignment and to strengthen the affected muscles and tendons.

I hope that this post may help someone. This blog is to be used by means of education, if anyone was worried about any injuries or sounds they have heard, the majority of the time it is fine. As i have stated in the post, if it is at all uncomfortable, painful or wont go away please seek professional advice. Don't let it worsen and result in a longer period of potential recovery. 

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