Do your joints sound like they’re filled with Rice Kripsies when you stand up and move around?  It’s a fairly common phenomenon and tends to happen more often as we get older. In most cases, it’s perfectly normal and nothing to be worried about.

There are two primary causes of normal popping and cracking sounds.  The first is the sound you sometimes hear when you shift and flex your muscles.  Sometimes you’ll here a sharp snapping sound, which is caused when muscles and ligaments move across one of your joints.  They’ll “catch” on your joints as they’re dragged across them, and then, when the snap back into their normal position, you’ll hear a snapping sound.

The most common popping sounds are actually gas, but not of the intestinal variety.  Joint capsules are filled with something called synovial fluid, which acts as a lubricant for your joints.  This fluid contains a variety of dissolved gasses, and when joint ligaments are stretched, it causes the pressure on the capsule to change, which releases carbon dioxide in the form of bubbles.  The cracking noise you hear are the sounds of those bubbles popping.  That’s why your back, knuckles and other joints pop when you crack them.

Both of these sounds become increasingly common as you get older and begin to lose muscle mass, because the loss exposes more of your bones.

Having said that, there are strange sounds that aren’t normal, and in fact, are a sign of a deeper, underlying problem.  For instance, there’s a condition called crepitus which occurs when there’s damage to the cartilage inside your joints.  There are lots of things that can cause cartilage damage but the two most common are simple age and overuse.  It’s distinguished by peculiar “clunking” or grinding noises.  It’s not painful, because cartilage doesn’t have nerve endings, but it can lead to swelling, numbness, and ultimately loss of functionality.

So are the sounds your body is making normal, or a sign of a potentially dangerous condition?  In most cases, they’re probably harmless. If they keep happening, it pays to mention them to your doctor to rule out something that could pose a serious problem down the road.