Do your joints make noises, such as snap crackle and pop? Before you can become a joint whisperer, you must get clear about some basic joint anatomy. So, first things first: A joint is the place where two or more bones meet. Without joints your body would be one giant immobile bone.

An illustration of the common synovial joint.

An illustration of the common synovial joint.

That said, not all joints allow for movement.  Fibrous and cartilaginous joints allow for little to no movement while synovial joints allow movement in many directions. Let’s take a closer look at synovial joints, as they are moving joints we are most often concerned (ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists).  These are the joints that typically create disturbing sounds and sensations during movement – although they are certainly not the ONLY joints capable of noise.

Knowing the structures that are in and around your synovial joints provides a massive clue as to how to interpret the sounds they make.  Here is a short list of some of the structures you will find in and around synovial joints:

1) Cartilage – a layer of smooth covering on the ends of the bones that allows them to glide over each other without friction.

2) Sometimes the bones that make up a joint fit together nicely; sometimes they do not.  Luckily, your body comes already equipped with spacers, wedges, fatty pads, rings and stuffing to create a better fit and provide some cushioning.

3) Ligaments – fibrous connective tissues that act as straps to hold the bones of your joints together.

4) A bursa (a small sack filled with synovial fluid) is usually positioned between moving parts to reduce friction and keeps things sliding and gliding smoothly (keeping tendon gliding smoothly over bone, for example)

5) A ‘joint capsule’ surrounds and holds the joint together – a connective tissue container lined with a membrane that produces lubricating fluid for your joint.

6) Synovial fluid fills the space inside the joint capsule (like a water balloon) and between the cartilage surfaces. In addition to facilitating smooth, painless movement between bones, it delivers nutrients and oxygen to the cartilage.  Joint movement circulates synovial fluid and feeds the cartilage.

Sound typically arises from a joint when something moved out of position or is creating friction.  Knowing what’s inside the joint space provides important clues for deciphering the meaning of those snapping, crackling and popping sounds.

Looking for a solution to prime your joints for movement? Try these dynamic Yoga Tune Up® poses: Half Happy Baby Minivini and Pranic Bath

This article is part 1 of a 4-part series on interpreting sounds from the joint space. Come back Friday to learn about synovial joints that snap!

Enjoyed this article? Read This Joint Is Jumping – Getting Comfortable in an Unstable Body

Amanda Tripp

It was love at first Sun Salutation for Amanda Tripp ... who was introduced to yoga as a teen when her mom brought home a video. Eventually, she sought out living, breathing teachers to help direct and deepen her practice. Her teachers have been inspirational; her yoga practice: transformational. Amanda felt the call to share the healing benefits of practice with others and completed a 250-hour teacher training program at the Yoga Centre of Burlington. Continuing studies led her to the work of Jill Miller and certification as a Yoga Tune Up® teacher. Amanda's classes speak to the body, breath, mind and heart as she guides students toward greater ease of being.

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The bursas in my knees have popped pretty much all my life. Would be great to understand a bit more about how to help the joint so that it doesn’t continue happening. It would be interesting to know the difference of sounds between a bursa and joint capsule. Thanks for distinguishing all the supportive areas of the joints that protect them!

marie josée packwood

Good thing to know… Thank you!

Kammy Fung

I can’t wait for the reasoning of bone from snapping sound. I heard different reasons from nitrogen escape from body to de-fixation. But I never get a complete scientific explanation. Looking forward to next article

Jess Blake

Thanks for such a clear breakdown of the components of a synovial joint! I have crackling in almost all of my joints and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series and potentially deciphering what might be causing that sound!