Why do joints make cracking and snapping sounds?

Why do joints make cracking and snapping sounds?Do you have to worry when your joints make cracking and snapping sounds every now and then? According to orthopedic surgeon Peter Brownson of The Bone and Joint Center of the Spire Liverpool Hospital, it is very normal for healthy joints to make all kinds of sounds and therefore nothing to worry about. However, cracking and snapping sounds accompanied by pain and stiffness may be a problem of course. It might be an indication of joint wear. This is called osteoarthritis. The noise is created by structural changes of cartilage and bone.

Joints make sounds

In most joints, the cracking sound is usually caused by two structures rubbing against each other. For example tendon and bone, two tendons or cartilage and bone. The snapping sound may be caused by a loose piece of bone or cartilage that blocks the joint. When the joint is unlocked again, it may be accompanied by a “popping” sound. In osteoarthritis the joints may break and make ‘sandy sounds’. This usually occurs while moving. These sounds are caused by the roughness of the joint surface due to loss of the smooth cartilage layer. This usually indicates initial wear of the joint surface. If these sounds do not coincide with swelling, stiffness and pain, then there is usually nothing going on. However, if you have any other complaints, it is recommended to visit the general practitioner to exclude osteoarthritis. In addition, osteoarthritis does not always have to go together with cracking and snapping joints.

Can cracking and snapping cause osteoarthritis?

Perhaps the most famous joint noise is the snapping of the knuckles. Although this is nothing but a nerve tic, the people who do this regularly find it a nice feeling. By pulling or pushing the joints, an air bubble can emerge that breaks apart with a popping sound. This trick can only be repeated if there is enough air again. It is estimated that between 25 and 54 percent of the world’s population is crunching the knuckles. Many people think snapping joints may eventually cause arthritis. The Calorian doctor Donald Unger has hit the knuckles of his left hand for 60 years twice a day. However, in both hands there was no trace of osteoarthritis. In another study, with 215 participants, it was not only checked whether people snapped their knuckles or not, but how often they did. [1] Of all the participants, 20% said they did regularly. There was no demonstrable difference between people who snapped the knuckles and those who never did. No difference was found per joint. Finally, the frequency (number of times a day), the duration (the number of years it was already done) and the volume (frequency x duration) of the snapping also showed no effect on the occurrence of hand arthrosis.
There is thus no link between osteoarthritis and snapping of the knuckles. However, people with osteoarthritis suffer from snapping joints.

[1] deWeber, K .; Olszewski, M .; Ortolano, R. (2011) Knuckle cracking and hand osteoarthritis. Journal of the American Board of Family Magazine 24; 169-174. Read full article (English).


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