Q: I'm only 34, but my joints are already cracking and popping. Is that a bad sign?
A: As long as the sound doesn’t come with any pain or swelling, you don’t need to worry. Popping or cracking noises could just be gas bubbles bursting within the fluid surrounding the joint, or the sound of ligaments and tendons stretching and releasing. Do you notice it more when you repeatedly move the joint (when you’re doing shoulder presses at the gym, for instance)? A soft snapping or clicking sound is also sometimes caused by a tight muscle or tendon moving over a bony structure. To help silence the snapping, try doing some gentle stretching that involves the joint and the surrounding muscles.
Have you had any injuries involving the joint? If a ligament heals improperly, the joint may pop when you move it.
You’re still young, but keep in mind that joints may also start to make noise as you age, because some of the cartilage wears away over time. But if you are experiencing any discomfort in the joint, see your doctor. It’s possible you have a ligament injury or arthritic damage that needs to be investigated.
Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.