Expert Q&A: What Causes Noisy Joints?

What causes joints to make snapping and popping noises, known as crepitus?

Question: I am a 20-year-old in okay shape and health, but the joints in my upper and lower back and shoulders are always stiff and snap all the time. Are noisy joints the sign of some problem?

A: Snapping and popping of joints is common. The sound you hear is caused by air bubbles in the synovial fluid – the liquid that surrounds and lubricates your joints – and by the snapping of tightly stretched ligaments as they slide off one bony surface onto another. This sound is sometimes called crepitus – especially when you hear it in your knees going up and down stairs. 

When not accompanied by pain, noisy joints are harmless. Nevertheless, I wouldn't recommend forcing joints to snap or pop. When joint cracking is accompanied by pain or swelling, it generally indicates some mechanical problem or disease activity within or around the joint, such as torn or frayed cartilage. If your noisy joints are accompanied by other symptoms, see a doctor. 
Leonard Calabrese, DO 

Department of Rheumatic and Immunological Diseases 

Cleveland Clinic 

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