Joint Cracking (Joint Popping): Symptoms & Signs

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

The symptom of joint cracking is described differently by different people while nevertheless representing the same condition. Various descriptions for the same process include "popping," "exploding," "noise," "snapping," and "creaking" of a joint. The cause of joint cracking depends on a number of conditions. Situational information that is essential in detecting the cause of joint popping includes whether it a singular episode of sounds coming from the joint or if it is a repeatable, recurrent event.

Joint popping that occurs once only is sometimes a result of injury to the joint. Such causes of joint popping include ligament strain or ligament tear, tendon strain or tendon tear (tendon rupture), broken bone (fracture), and joint dislocation.

Joint popping that occurs repeatedly, sometimes intentionally, can be caused by harmless events, such as knuckle cracking or snapping of a tendon over a protruding bony prominence. Repeated joint popping can also be caused by conditions that represent more serious joint status, such as a cartilage tear from a torn meniscus or degenerated cartilage from arthritis (osteoarthritis).

The most common joint to be associated with joint cracking is the knee joint.

Related Symptoms & Signs

REFERENCE:

Klippel, J.H., et al. Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases. New York: Springer, 2008.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/6/2017
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