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Cracking sound in Joints: What do you need to know

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Dr. Ramneek Mahajan
Our body tends to undergo several changes and experiences on a day-to-day basis, which is evident with certain signs and symptoms that are associated with such experiences. Cracking sounds, especially around the joints, are one of these experiences that occur due to the structures around the bones linked with these joints.
Sometimes we hear a cracking sound from the joints while walking, running or even changing positions after sitting in one place for a long time. This sound also resembles a popping, clicking, or snapping sound and is known as “crepitus”. Let’s learn more about the different aspects linked to the cracking sound in joints.
Causes of cracking sounds
Cracking sounds primarily occur for the following reasons:
Bubbles of air popping inside the joints, which is caused due to crack in your knuckles. This is usually painless in nature.
Arthritis – In this, the bones rub against each other. Here, the patient experiences chronic pain or discomfort
Symptoms associated with cracking sound in joints:
Most individuals who hear a cracking sound in their joints notice the following:
When you bend your elbows or knees, you may hear a cracking or popping sound
Cracking sounds while climbing stairs
Sound made while moving shoulders
Occasional swelling around the joints (can be continual as well)
Medical conditions that lead to cracking sound in joints:
Osteoarthritis: This condition leads to thinning followed by wear and tear effects on the joints. This effect occurs as the joints rub against each other. The cracking sound occurs more commonly in osteoarthritis patients, especially with the increase in age.
Rheumatoid arthritis: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis also experience high-pitched cracking sounds in joints.
Knuckle cracking: The cracking sound is heard in this case because of the nitrogen gas bubbles compressing and bursting. This cracking sound is usually not associated with arthritis.
Is cracking sound a sign of arthritis?
Once an individual hears a cracking sound in their joints, he feels that he is affected with arthritis. But the positive answer to your worry is that the cracking sound is not a sign of arthritis or any damage to the bone joints. This sound is produced due to the rubbing of tendons surrounding the joints. It may also be caused due to popping of nitrogen bubbles that are found in the spaces around the joints.
Treatment for cracking sound in joints:
The treatment for this sound is classified into two types. This includes:
Non-invasive treatments: These types of treatments usually do not require surgical intervention to treat the condition. Some of the commonly recommended and performed treatments for cracking sound in joints are bracing, splinting, physical therapy, custom orthotics, and pain relief medications.
Surgical treatments: Surgical treatments for cracking sound in joints include arthroscopic surgery, debridement, and joint replacement surgeries.
(The author is senior Director (Orthopaedics) & Head Joint Reconstruction (Hip & Knee) Unit, Max SMart Super Specialty Hospital Saket)


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