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Q and A: Snap, Crackle, Pop

Posted Nov 05 2009 10:00pm

Do you know what causes the popping noise during exercise? The classic example might be a knee pop during a lunge, but my shoulders pop like crazy during front raises and side lateral raises. The pops are pretty loud and aren’t limited to just the first or two reps! The pops aren’t there for each and every lift, but maybe 40% of the time. This is not the exercise soundtrack I want! Any ideas? thanks! Also, your last two posts were particularly awesome. Thanks!


You know, I HAVE NO IDEA. Well, I didn’t, so I looked it up. I have a shoulder and an elbow that crack pretty gnarly sometimes, but normally a lot of people’s knees crack with regular movement.

I DID know, however, that if your joints pop without your forcing them and it doesn’t hurt- you are fine, and don’t worry about it. If you force them to pop- that’s bad. And if it hurts when they pop- that’s bad.

I found a pretty good answer, and don’t really feel like summarizing it (I’m busy! Sue me) so here it is:

From HowStuffWorks:

Joints are the meeting points of two separate bones, held together and in place by connective tissues and ligaments. All of the joints in our bodies are surrounded by synovial fluid, a thick, clear liquid. When you stretch or bend your finger to pop the knuckle, you’re causing the bones of the joint to pull apart. As they do, the connective tissue capsule that surrounds the joint is stretched. By stretching this capsule, you increase its volume. And as we know from chemistry class, with an increase in volume comes a decrease in pressure. So as the pressure of the synovial fluid drops, gases dissolved in the fluid become less soluble, forming bubbles through a process called cavitation. When the joint is stretched far enough, the pressure in the capsule drops so low that these bubbles burst, producing the pop that we associate with knuckle cracking.

This doesn’t really answer this situation, though, because why do some areas pop on some people and not others.

I dug around a little more, and found that sometimes popping that occurs on its own is a sign of the joints hypermobility- the tendons and ligaments are not as tight, or as strong as they should be, so the joint slips larger on its own, without any force. So my shoulder and elbow are more hypermobile than the rest of me, as someone who’s knee pops is more hypermobile that the rest of their joints.

My elbow actually locks up sometimes, and I have to force it straight and it pops, but other times it does it on its own, so actually i dont know which it is.

Arthritis has not been proven to be a side effect of popping, but due to the stress it puts on the connective tissue, you can cause some soft tissue damage.

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