Joint Popping, Cracking and Anxiety
An increase in joint popping and cracking is a common yet less well-known symptom of anxiety. Almost two thirds of anxiety disorder sufferers experience this symptom.
This joint popping and cracking anxiety symptom can be described as:
- One or many of your body’s joints are making louder than normal popping or cracking sounds.
- One or many of your body’s joints are making more frequent popping or cracking sounds.
- When you move your joints, the popping and cracking sounds are much noisier than they used to be.
This joint popping and cracking sounds anxiety symptom can affect one joint only, can shift and affect another joint or joints, and can migrate all over and affect many joints over and over again.
This joint popping and cracking sounds anxiety symptom can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, your joints make a popping or cracking sound once in a while and not that often, pop and crack off and on, or are noisy all the time.
This joint popping and cracking sounds anxiety symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.
This joint popping and cracking sounds anxiety symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong on some days and quiet the next.
All of the above combinations and variations are common.
Why does anxiety cause an increase in joint popping and cracking sounds?
We recommend all new, changing, persistent, and returning anxiety symptoms be discussed with your doctor as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms, including this anxiety symptom. If your doctor concludes your symptoms are solely anxiety-related, you can be confident there isn't a medical cause. Generally, doctors can easily determine the difference between anxiety symptoms and those caused by a medical condition.
Doctors aren't infallible, however. If you are uncertain about your doctor’s diagnosis, you can seek a second or more opinions. But if all opinions agree, you can be assured anxiety is the cause of this symptom.
Here are a few reasons why anxiety and stress can aggravate joint popping and cracking:
Rapidly escaping gases
The synovial fluid present in your joints act as a lubricant. The fluid is made up of the gases oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. When you put pressure on a joint, the joint capsule stretches creating a cavity, which causes gas to be rapidly released in the form of bubbles. The gas bubbling out of the fluid causes the popping or cracking sound. If you want to crack the same joint again, you have to wait until the gases return to the synovial fluid.
Tendons or ligaments that “snap” back in place
Tendons are like rubber bands stretched over joints that keep muscles attached to bones. Similarly, ligaments expand to connect bones to other bones. Sometimes, tendons and ligaments slide out place at the joint, and when the joint moves, they quickly snap back into place. The sound of the tendons and ligaments snapping back into place can cause a popping or cracking sound. This commonly occurs in knees and ankles.
Rough joint surfaces
As we age, our joint surfaces can become rough or develop bone spurs (osteophytes) due to cartilage loss. As we move our joints, they can “pop” or “crack” because of the movement over rough surfaces.
Arthritis or joint damage
Similar to the above point, the development of arthritis or experiencing joint damage due to injury can also cause rough joint surfaces, which can cause popping and cracking sounds as the joint rotates on rough-edged surfaces.
Popping or cracking sounds can come from a joint that has been recently operated on. This popping and cracking can persist until the joint regains flexibility and range of motion. If ligaments form scar tissue (adhesions), however, the popping or cracking might persist.
Everyone experiences joint popping and cracking to some degree. Some people experience more or louder popping and cracking sounds than others.
Yes, anxiety can cause an increase in popping and cracking sounds in and around the joints. Stress causes the body’s muscles to tighten, and tense muscles can put extra pressure on the body, including its joints. Increased pressure on the joints can cause them to sound noisier than normal.
This symptom doesn’t occur for everyone but can for those whose bodies are more susceptible to joint noise and pain when their stress is elevated.
Like other sensations and symptoms of stress, while annoying and uncomfortable, this symptom isn’t harmful, and therefore, needn’t be a cause for concern.
How to get rid of the joint popping and cracking anxiety symptoms.
When joint popping and cracking is aggravated by anxiety and the stress it causes, containing your anxiety and eliminating your body’s unhealthy stress can reduce this symptom. As stress diminishes, muscle tension is relaxed, which puts less pressure on joints.
Furthermore, eliminating your body’s unhealthy stress can also reduce the incidences of arthritis and inflammation, since chronic stress has been linked to problems with both.
If you are having difficulty containing your worrying, you may want to connect with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including what seems like uncontrollable worry.
For a more detailed explanation about anxiety, anxiety symptoms, why anxiety symptoms can persist long after we think they should, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.
1. Brodeur, Raymond. “What Makes the Sound When We Crack Our Knuckles?” Scientific American, 2019, www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-makes-the-sound-when/.
2. Kawchuk, Gregory, et al. "Real-Time Visualization of Joint Cavitation." PLoS One, 15, Apr. 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4398549/
3. Guillin, R, et al. "Imaging of snapping phenomena." BJR International Journal of Radiology, Radiation Oncology and all Related Sciences, Oct. 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3474026/
4. Davis, Mary, et al. "Chronic Stress and Regulation of Cellular Markers of Inflammation in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Implications for Fatigue." Brain Behavior and Immunity, 15, Aug. 2007, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2211450/
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.
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- Anxiety 101 is a summarized description of anxiety, anxiety disorder, and how to recover.
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