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Noisy Joints? Here's What It Means...

What is that sound? Where does it come from? Is it bad?

Almost daily someone will ask me about a clicking, cracking, popping, grinding sound that they have coming from one or more joints in their body. Usually it's followed with the question, "Is it bad?".

There are a few common sounds that people will hear coming from their joints. We'll go over them one by one and talk about what it means and whether it's bad or good.


The neck and shoulder are typically the most common joints to make grinding sounds. This is often described as sounding like sandpaper. This is typically from a loss of cartilage on the joint surfaces. As we age, the smooth joints surfaces can get jagged and rough and can make a grinding sound with movement. Is it bad? As long as it's not painful, it's most likely just a sign that you've lost some cartilage and the joint isn't as smooth as it once was.


A 'Clicking' sound is most commonly heard in knees and ankles. This is the least troublesome of all joint sounds. Personally, my ankles have popped and clicked since I was in high school. The clicking sound is typically a tendon clicking over a bone as you move that joint, kind of like a guitar string being plucked. As long as it's not new and not painful, this is not a problem.


A clunking sound is typically a lower pitch sound and is common in the hips and knees. A clunking sound sometimes can be followed by relief and sometimes followed by pain. The lower pitched Clunking can be due to tissues becoming trapped such as the case of the meniscus in the knee or a pinch in the hip joint. Clunking can be bad and can be reason to seek treatment. Overall, a clunking sound in a joint is only a potential problem if it's painful.


The 'Cracking' sound such as from cracking your knuckles or getting adjusted by your Chiropractor is a different animal all together. This sound is called a 'Cavitation' and is actually caused my Nitrogen gas expanding from a joint that was restricted. It's very similar to the 'crack' when you open a can of pop or beer.

At the end of the day, joints makes noise. And, they make more noise the older you get. The only real reason to be concerned is if the sound is either new or painful. Sometimes it's as simple as the muscles around the joint are tight and need to be stretched out a bit. Motion is lotion after all.

Dr. Hanson

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