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Popping noise: When should you worry about it?

Popping noise: When should you worry about it?

Popping joints — noises from within the joints while working out — are annoying but harmless unless accompanied by certain other symptoms, say experts
Hearing a popping or cracking noise (popping joints) is common while working out.
A popping or clicking noise usually occurs in the knee or shoulder joints while working out.

The workout routine is going great, and you are feeling positive changes in the body, while the exercise is keeping you in a relaxed zone. Then you hear it: a popping noise in the middle of a rep. You brush it aside as a one-off and carry on. But it happens again – a pop from inside your shoulder joint when you perform an overhead press. You begin to wonder, worry even.

According to the National Library of Medicine many people visit their doctors worried that the noise they hear while working out is a sign of some underlying condition or injury. In most cases, however, it is harmless.

The best way to differentiate between physiological and pathological noise is to check for pain and swelling or effusion.

Experts say hearing a popping or cracking noise is common. A painless crack or pop, with no accompanying swelling, is nothing to worry about.

Science behind the popping noise

The popping sound arises from muscles or tendons rubbing or moving against each other. It is also caused by the nitrogen bubbles formed between the spaces in the joints.

“When the sound is not accompanied by pain, it can often be due to the release of air or gases in the synovial fluid (thick liquids between the joints),” says Dr Sudheesh Sundaran Pillai, founder and director of Exerscience Sports Medicine Clinic in Kochi, Kerala. “Moving your joints while working out can cause air bubbles in the fluid to escape.”

One should investigate if the noise is accompanied by pain.

“Sometimes, the noise may also be associated with worn cartilages in the bones and joints rubbing against each other,” says Dr Kiran Kumar Mannava, consultant orthopedic, Manipal Hospitals, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. “If your cracking joints are causing pain, swelling or difficulty moving, it is recommended to consult a doctor.”

Popping noise during workouts

Noise around the knee is heard when performing repeated knee extension and flexion or squats. Ligaments and tendons around the knee joint may stretch slightly as they pass over a small bony lump and then snap back into place, causing a clicking sound in the knee.

Lower-body exercises like squats or lunges may cause popping in the knee joints due to irregular tracking of the patella (kneecap) in the groove of the femur. A shoulder pop, if painless, could be because of the tight ligaments snapping over bony prominences.

“If the meniscus [the cartilage between joints that act as cushion] is damaged or torn, it can result in swelling, pain, clicking and locking sensation,” adds Dr Pillai. “Sometimes a tendon or ligament can snap against a bone, especially if it is tight or inflamed. If you push through and keep working out despite discomfort or inflammation, it will only make things worse.”

A proper warm-up, stretching routine and activity modification are the ways to reduce the joint from cracking. However, understanding what is causing the noise is important.


  • Hearing a popping noise while working out should not be a concern if it comes without pain or a swelling.
  • The popping occurs from muscles or tendons rubbing or moving against each other and due to the bones and joints rubbing against each other.
  • Painless popping noises are mostly caused by the release of air or gases within the joints.
  • Proper warmup, stretching and activity modification can reduce the occurrence of popping noises while working out.

Share Your Experience/Comments

7 Responses

  1. I do have knee pain and back(waist) pain. I am 58 years old, male. Visited doctor, who advised me to undergo
    computered x ray. Finally told me that I am suffering from ostreo arthritis. They gave me a declofenic gel, and recommended me to use knee caps while doing long walks. Sir, this is not regular. Early morning the pain in more. If I walk for a longer distance, say for 20-25 minutes, the pain becomes severe. Any further advice for me Sir.Thanks with regard.

    1. Thank you for your query, we at Happiest Health however do not offer medical advice or suggest any doctors’ names.

  2. In 2005 due to ligament injury of right knee I have knee issues. However now I am 63 years old & have pain in both knees, lower back pain. Do give suggestions. Thanks ??

    1. Thank you for your query, we at Happiest Health however do not offer medical advice or suggest any doctors’ names.

      1. I have left and right knee pains since 5years.please any suggestion of this heavy knee pains.

        1. Thank you for your query, we at Happiest Health however do not offer medical advice or suggest any doctors’ names.

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