Just Wondering: Is It Normal for My Bones To Crack *a Lot* When I Move?

woman in bed having backache

Pop, crunch, crack. No, those aren't the sounds of your favorite childhood cereal settling into a bowl of milk. Those are the sounds your joints have been making lately as you get out of bed, stretch before a workout, or simply just move throughout your day. If you've recently wondered, "why do my bones crack so much?" it's actually not your bones making noise. It's usually air being released between your joints when you crack your knuckles, neck, back, etc. And it's actually pretty typical to hear these noises no matter your age. But is there a point where cracking should make you concerned?

"It's not uncommon for joints to make a cracking noise, and it can occur in ages across the board," says Elizabeth T. Nguyen, MD, a physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. On the other hand, cracking that hits with pain isn't normal and tends to be something that happens more often in older adults, she adds.

Experts In This Article

Here are the most common reasons why your joints crack all of a sudden, and when to see a professional about it.

3 reasons why your bones crack so much

There are a few different reasons why your bones and joints crack so much, including:

1. Your joints are releasing pressure

Cracking that's painless or even feels good happens when trapped gas bubbles escape from the joints in your knuckles, back, neck, knees, or ankles. These gas bubbles—made of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide—are contained within your joints' lubricating liquid called synovial fluid.

When you stretch your joints, the motion causes a reduction in pressure, causing the gas bubbles to collapse. The result is a popping or cracking sound, according to the Library of Congress.

This pressure release usually feels pretty good. "You're stretching the joint, which could be because the joint hasn't moved in a while and it starts to get tight or stiff," Dr. Nguyen says. Equally important, it's not bad for your joints at all (with a few exceptions we'll cover later), notes the Cleveland Clinic. So if you relish the crack that comes when you finally get up from your desk and roll your neck or bend your knees, that's totally okay.

2. You have cartilage loss

Sometimes cracking sounds can be from your joints grinding against each other. This can happen when there's a loss of cartilage—the connective tissue that normally acts as a cushion between your joints, allowing them to bend comfortably, per the Library of Congress.

Cartilage loss can be a normal part of aging to some degree, especially if you've had a past injury in that area. If the clicking or popping isn't painful, the cartilage loss—and the sounds that come with it—aren't cause for concern, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

But if it becomes painful, "it could be related to an arthritic condition," Dr. Nguyen says. So if your cracking hurts and is accompanied by stiffness or a harder time using your joints to perform daily activities (like climbing the stairs or buttoning a shirt), it's worth getting it checked out by your primary-care doctor or an orthopedist. This may be a sign of early-onset arthritis.

3. You have joint inflammation

If you're wondering, "why do my joints crack and hurt?" it could be a sign of inflammation. Popping that happens with joint pain, tightness, or stiffness can also be a sign of tendonitis—i.e., inflammation of the tendons, or tissue that connects your muscles to your bones. "If the tendons around the joint are inflamed or compromised, it can affect the way the joints move and glide over bony surfaces," which could make a cracking or popping noise, says Dr. Nguyen.

Tendonitis often hits in the shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees, or heels. It can strike suddenly (from quickly moving the wrong way) or develop over time from an overuse injury (like repeatedly swinging a tennis racket). This could also explain why your chest cracks when you stretch, or your knees crackle when you squat, for example. You'll usually feel a dull ache when you move the affected area and have some swelling and tenderness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

What does it mean if joint cracking is painful?

Normal joint popping shouldn't hurt, and plenty of people even say it feels good. So if you're wincing in pain whenever you hear a cracking sound, that's a likely indicator of a joint issue like arthritis or tendonitis, Dr. Nguyen says. Your doctor can easily pinpoint the problem with a physical exam and imaging tests, so it's best to make an appointment and get it checked out.

Do your joints crack more as you age?

If you're 30 and your joints crack (or even 20 and your joints crack), fear not. According to Dr. Nguyen, joint popping that happens when pressure gets released isn't age-specific.

That said, popping, cracking, or clicking that stems from cartilage loss or tendonitis is more likely to happen as you get older, because cartilage wears away over time and the risk of tendonitis increases with age. This may explain why your bones crack so much in the morning as you age.

Is it okay to crack your joints on purpose?

As long as it's not hurting you, you're basically good to go. Despite what you might've heard about joint cracking causing long-term problems like arthritis, there's no evidence to show that actually happens, according to Harvard Health Publishing. "If you're cracking and you're not feeling pain, it's probably fine. It's not harmful," Dr. Nguyen says. (Big sigh of relief for anyone out there who thinks they crack their fingers so much!)

How to stop joints from cracking

There's no real way to prevent the kind of run-of-the-mill popping or cracking that happens when your joints are relieving pressure. Because it's a normal bodily process, you can simply just ignore it.

That said, it's always a good idea to be proactive about protecting your joints in general. These tips won't necessarily stop normal popping, but they can help reduce your chances for problems like arthritis or joint injuries. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases recommends:

  • Regular exercise: Physical activity keeps your muscles and joints strong and can help stave off stiffness. If your knees or ankles are sensitive, stick with low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, or cycling.
  • A balanced diet: A wholesome, balanced diet will help keep your bones and joints healthy and strong. Plus, it can help you maintain a healthy weight for your body shape and height—which can help relieve pressure on the joints.

Cracking or clicking that happens with pain or stiffness can (and should) be addressed, because you're likely dealing with an underlying joint issue. The specific treatment will depend on the underlying problem, but may involve things like physical therapy or strengthening exercises, Dr. Nguyen says.

When to see a doctor about cracking joints

Joints that hurt when they make noise are the best indicator that something's amiss, so see your doctor if you're noticing any pain or discomfort along with the popping or cracking, recommends Dr. Nguyen. You should also seek medical attention for symptoms like numbness, weakness, tingling, vision changes, or new or worsening headaches, which could be signs of potential spinal issues, she adds.


What deficiency causes cracking joints?

There's no specific nutritional deficiency tied to noisy joints, Dr. Nguyen says. But being deficient in vitamin D is associated with higher rates of arthritis and chronic muscle pain, according to an August 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis in Public Health Nutrition. If you think your joint or muscle pain is related to low vitamin D, your doctor can check your levels with a simple blood test.

What is it called if your bones crack so easily?

"Crepitus" is the official term for joint cracking or popping, per Cedars-Sinai. (It's Latin for "rattle," FYI.) There's no specific name for people who have frequent popping or cracking not tied to pain or an underlying health problem. Bottom line: If your neck bones, hip bones, or ankle bones crack so much, but without pain, chalk it up to just the natural way your body is.

What disease causes joints to dislocate?

One disease that can cause your joints to dislocate is called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. It's a connective tissue disorder marked by hyperflexible joints, which can increase the risk for joint dislocation, injuries, and chronic pain. It's thought to be caused by certain genetic variants, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is often diagnosed by taking into account all of your symptoms (and if you have a family history of the disease), and can be relieved through a combination of pain-relief medications, physical therapy, and keeping blood pressure in check, per the Mayo Clinic.

—reviewed by Jennifer Gilbert, MD, MPH

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Wu Z, Malihi Z, Stewart AW, Lawes CM, Scragg R. The association between vitamin D concentration and pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Public Health Nutr. 2018 Aug;21(11):2022-2037. doi: 10.1017/S1368980018000551. Epub 2018 Mar 21. PMID: 29559013; PMCID: PMC10260782.

The Wellness Intel You Need—Without the BS You Don't
Sign up today to have the latest (and greatest) well-being news and expert-approved tips delivered straight to your inbox.

Loading More Posts...