Daily wisdom: cracking joints can be ok

Plus, how strengthening your quads could make your knees stop popping.

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A recent study found that people who felt cracking and popping (also known as crepitus) in their knees had a greater risk of developing symptomatic arthritis.


“The study looked at people ages 45 to 79, and while arthritis typically affects people in this age category, it can also affect younger patients," says Alexander McLawhorn, M.D., orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. In particular, "athletes have higher demands on their joints, asking them to do more reps, carry more load, and perform through greater ranges of motion than non-athletes. Thus, athletes may more commonly notice crepitus," states McLawhorn. However, "most people under 45 who experience crepitus without pain probably do not have much to worry about," notes McLawhorn, who adds that the causes are usually benign. "Sometimes it's the tendons or ligaments popping over prominent ridges on the bones around the knee or hip joint. It could also be caused by bubbles within the joint fluid, and these forms of crepitus can be totally normal and harmless." If you are hearing these noises, McLawhorn encourages athletes to work on strengthening their quads. "Strong quad muscles remove load off the knee joint, potentially slowing down wear and tear of the cartilage and the progression to arthritis," he says.


If you are experiencing frequent crepitus without pain, McLawhorn recommends seeing a sports medicine specialist. But: "Some athletes may acquire structural changes in their joints because of repetitive loading and/or torques that can predispose the hip and knee to damage and subsequent arthritis," he says. "If crepitus is associated with pain, that's when you should get checked out by an orthopedic surgeon." Painful crepitus could be caused by arthritis or tears in the cartilage in the joint (such as the meniscus).