My hip pops every time I move my leg in an extremely specific, completely unnecessary way. So, I make it pop intentionally all the time, and occasionally convince myself that I will soon be immobile because of it. But the truth is, having your joints pop and crack while you’re exercising or otherwise moving around is actually pretty normal and safe — as long as it doesn’t hurt.
Your body has a freaking ton of parts and it’s not uncommon for bits to move out of place or rub up against each other. For the most part, that’s exactly what’s happening when you hear and feel noises from your joints. All the tendons, ligaments and cartilage are likely just popping against the bone. You notice it more during exercise because, well, you’re moving, probably in ways you wouldn’t ordinarily move.
If you experience the same type of noise/feeling every time you move a certain way, this is likely the cause. If it just happens sporadically, it might also just be an air bubble in the joint. This is essentially what happens when you crack your knuckles, too. It’s also possible that your muscles are particularly tight, causing them to rub against the bone. The popping itself isn’t much of a problem, but it signals that you should be stretching more.
Something that might be slightly more concerning is if you’d describe the noise as “grating,” especially in your knee joints. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this could indicate that the cartilage within your knees is wearing down, and that your bones are now directly rubbing against each other. In other words, you’re developing osteoarthritis. Often, this simply happens from aging or from specific injuries. Osteoarthritis is usually accompanied by pain and swelling, but not always — either way, various studies have found a correlation between noises in the knee and the eventual development of arthritis.
However, that doesn’t mean you should stop exercising. In fact, regular exercise, healthy body weight and maintaining muscles are all key factors in reducing arthritis risks and symptoms. The noise might progress and pain might develop, but it’s overall recommended that you don’t let a noisy knee stop you from exercising entirely.
If you do start developing pain or swelling in any of your joints on top of the usual noisiness, you should consult with your doctor. That way, you can figure out if arthritis or other conditions like tendonitis are a concern and determine how to manage them. For now, though, you may pop in peace.