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Why Are My Joints Cracking When I Stretch?

by Alexa Watters

We’re sure you might be all too familiar with this scenario: you’re adjusting from one yoga position to another, then you hear snap, crackle, and pop sounds coming from your joints as you move. Most people might be embarrassed about it, especially if it happens in a quiet room full of other people. These noises are completely normal for the most part. Other times, it might be your body’s way of saying, “please stretch me!”

Whatever it is, there are some steps you can take to reduce that noise coming from your joints. Keep reading to learn what those sounds are and what causes them to happen.

The Reason Why Your Body Makes Noises as You Move 

Your body makes all sorts of noises as you move throughout the day. Although some of those pops may sound alarming, there’s usually no reason for you to worry. Little nitrogen bubbles can become trapped in the synovial fluid between joints as they are flexed or extended, and they release with movement. When you bend your knee or rotate your ankle, that’s usually the crack you’re hearing.

This sound is known as crepitation, which is defined as a cracking or rattling sound that occurs when something rubs together. It can affect people of all ages, but it becomes more prominent as you become older. Since people commonly bend and straighten their joints during everyday activities, these are mostly the times when they hear those crackling sounds.

Some of the common areas that can crack when you move are:

  • Neck
  • Ankles
  • Wrist
  • Back
  • Knees

When it Becomes a Problem

Generally, noisy joints aren’t an issue for people. There might come a time when you should seek care if your cracking joints come with other problems, like:

  • Aches
  • Swelling
  • Loss of mobility

Any of these symptoms could be a sign of arthritis. Injuries from damaged cartilage or a pinched nerve could also cause low popping sounds to come from your joints. If this is the case, stretching might not help or could even make things worse. You should see a doctor or medical professional for advice.

What Happens When You Force Your Joints to Crack? 

Many people intentionally crack joints, like their knuckles, backs, and necks. It tends to give people a physical feeling of relief from pressure. It’s a common misconception that intentionally cracking your knuckles or other joints can cause arthritis. All you’re doing is releasing the air from the joints.

Although it’s technically not a bad thing, forcing your joint to crack could cause bigger problems. For example, you could strain a muscle or pinch a nerve if you try to crack your back too hard. Besides that, cracking your knuckles shouldn’t cause any health issues, but you should consult a doctor if you notice swelling or discomfort.

All the Common Causes of Cracking and Popping Joints 

A lot goes on in your body as it moves, and one of those things could contribute to the noise you hear when you move your joints. Because of this, there could be several reasons why your joints crack when you move them.

Below are some of the common things that cause this:

Muscle Activity

You mainly hear popping or cracking as your tendons and ligaments move. They change shape and move to accommodate your shifting joints. A tendon may snap in and out of place, resulting in that popping noise when you stretch your muscles. This also occurs during other activities, like:

  • Stretching
  • Exercising
  • Dancing
  • Repetitive movements

Cartilage Loss

Cartilage is the tough and flexible connective tissue that holds your bones together while supporting other tissues. It serves many functions but primarily acts as a cushion between joints and supports our weight during movement. People experience stiffness and swelling if they have cartilage loss or damage.

Your joint surfaces become rougher as you age, leading to cartilage loss. This can result in more cracking and popping coming from your joints as you move. People can also experience cartilage loss due to damage from a sudden injury, and this issue can also occur with lack of movement.

Arthritis

Arthritis is known to cause cartilage degeneration, resulting in more cracking and popping when you move your joints. If you also experience inflammation with the cracking, there’s a chance it could be from this disease. At this point, you should ask your doctor about the best ways to manage your discomfort.

Dehydration

Water is one of the primary components of cartilage, and when you don’t drink enough, it decreases. This means your joints can’t lubricate themselves when you’re dehydrated, and you’ll notice more cracking and snapping as a result. The average human body is about 50% to 65% water, so staying hydrated is crucial.

This is especially important after physical activities or being in the heat for too long.

Inadequate Vitamin Supply

Having an adequate number of vitamins and minerals will help your body function properly, particularly Vitamin D. Getting enough of this is vital for your joint health. This and other supplements are essential, like motor oil for your car is important. If you don’t keep those parts lubricated enough, they will undergo wear and tear until they ultimately stop working.

The same will happen with your body!

Tips to Minimize Joint Cracking 

While you can’t completely stop your joints from popping when you move, there are certainly some steps you can take to help minimize this. As we’ve previously stated, cracking joints is normal and shouldn’t be a concern unless you’re experiencing discomfort and swelling due to it.

However, it’s still important to keep your joints healthy and lubricated to prevent other issues from occurring in the future. Below are some of the things you can start doing to eliminate stiffness and minimize the crackling sounds your joints make because of it.

Move More

We’re going to use the car analogy again. If you leave a car sitting for too long without driving it, the fluids and oils don’t circulate the way they’re supposed to. They’ll thicken and become stale as a result, causing damage and a car that doesn’t work effectively. The same thing happens to your body when you sit for too long. 

Your blood and synovial fluids can’t circulate when you’re sedentary, resulting in joint stiffness that makes it much harder for you to move. So, if you want to prevent that snap, crackle, and pop every time you bend your knees, avoid sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time. If you work at a desk job, make sure to take frequent breaks to stand and walk around.

Gentle Stretching 

Gentle stretching is known to improve your mobility while also allowing the synovial fluid to move around in your joints. This keeps them lubricated and limits the popping and cracking sounds. Focusing on full-body stretches is important to prevent imbalance issues, but some areas are more prone to cracking than others.

Make sure to stretch these parts of your body often if you hear them cracking a lot:

  • Neck
  • Shoulders
  • Knees
  • Hips

Stress Relief

When we’re stressed, we tend to tighten our muscles. If you’re always tightening them, they’ll become more tense and put extra pressure on your joints. With more pressure, you’ll be more likely to hear popping and cracking around those areas.

If you find yourself constantly stressed or anxious, try looking for some calming activities to help relieve the tension you’re holding. Relaxing your muscles can also relax your joints, reducing the noise you hear from them.

Some good stress relief activities are:

  • Meditation
  • Assisted stretching
  • Getting a massage
  • Deep breathing

Mindfulness

If you intentionally crack your joints and want to stop, mindfulness can help. Some people do this as a way to relieve stress, but if cracking your knuckles is causing problems, it’s best to take the necessary steps to stop it. You first want to recognize when and why you do it.
For example, if it’s a nervous habit for you to crack your knuckles, try buying a stress ball so you can do something else with your hands. Habits aren’t easy to break, so you also have to be patient with yourself and understand that change will not happen overnight.

Exercise 

If you’re looking for an effective way to keep your body moving and minimize joint popping, get some exercise in. It’s good for your overall health to get some moderate physical activity for at least 150 minutes a week or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity. It’s also proven that exercising can be greatly beneficial for your joint health. 

When performing physical activities, make sure to vary your exercises. Repetitive motions from the same everyday workouts can lead to chronic injuries, such as damaged tendons, muscles, and nerves. You also want to strengthen the muscles of areas that frequently pop.

For example, if you have trouble with your knees, try some leg strengthening exercises to take some stress off those joints. Some examples are:

  • Walking
  • Cycling
  • Swimming

Have Good Posture

People with poor posture often find their back, neck, and shoulders to be incredibly stiff. Since stiff muscles put more pressure on your joints, you might notice some cracks when you turn your head or lift your arms.

Proper posture can help eliminate aches and minimize joint cracking in those areas. When sitting, keep your back upright and always have lumbar support. Avoid slouching and keep your feet flat on the floor so that everything is aligned.

You also want to use proper lifting techniques. Always use your legs and not your back to lift objects, and don’t forget to engage your abdominal muscles. You should also carry it as close to your body as possible.

Be Mindful of Your Sleeping Position

People who wake up with sore, creaking joints might want to look into their sleeping positions. Sleeping on your stomach causes your spine to flatten, which can lead to aching in the morning. To ensure proper spinal alignment, side sleepers should place a pillow between their legs, and back sleepers should have one behind their knees.

Supplements 

Some supplements can protect your joints and cartilage, minimizing the creaking and cracking you may hear. Our bodies require many types of vitamins and minerals that can be hard to obtain in an everyday diet. Taking supplements can help give you the health benefits you need to keep your joints and body healthy.

Some common ones that are great for joint health are:

  • Glucosamine
  • Chondroitin
  • Omega-3
  • Hyaluronic acid

Other Quick Facts About Joint Popping 

You can never know too much about all the sounds your joints make when you move! Here are some other fast facts about joint popping that might surprise you:

  • Your joint won’t crack again until the pressure has time to build up – this often takes around 20 minutes.
  • Approximately 54% of the U.S. population cracks their knuckles
  • The most common parts of the body that crack during movement are the fingers and knees.
  • There is no evidence that cracking your knuckles loosens the joints
    Crepitus comes from the Latin word “to rattle”

Practitioner stretching client

Can Assisted Stretching Help Minimize Cracking Joints? 

As you’re well aware, stretching with a practitioner can provide numerous physical and mental benefits. All our practitioners are trained in what we call the Stretch Zone method, which uses the principles of neuromuscular behavior.

By stretching you on a table with adjustable straps, we can manipulate your central nervous system and extend your muscles slightly farther than it normally allows. It also allows our stretch practitioner to isolate certain muscles, giving you the full benefit of the stretch.

Overall, this method can help relieve stiff muscles that put tension on your joints and causes those pesky popping noises. It does this by improving posture and breaking apart the tightness accumulated from long periods of inactivity. Keeping up with a routine that involves stretching and physical activity can ensure your cracking joints don’t introduce your presence before you do!

Are Your Muscles and Joints Screaming “Stretch Me”? 

Practitioner-assisted stretching is a great way to loosen your muscles and reduce that snap, crackle, and pop sound your joints make when you move. Stretch Zone is proud to offer these sessions for individuals who want to feel better and move better.

If your muscles are tight and causing your joints to crack, let our professionals help you find the relief you need. Look for a Stretch Zone location near you and schedule a relaxing, practitioner-assisted stretch today. Your first session is free, so come on in and experience the difference it can make!

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