The first thing to understand is that there’s an awful lot of stuff that we never see under our skin. We have a connective tissue that literally covers everything inside you called fascia. If you’ve ever peeled the skin off of a chicken breast and saw that filmy “second skin” that covers the chicken breast, then you’ve seen fascia.
We also have ligaments, tendons, bursae, and various forms of cartilage within our joints and connecting things like ribs to your sternum (aka breast bone).
Between all of this stuff we have water with some proteins and sugars mixed in to keep all these different layers slippery and sliding across each other to prevent friction. If there wasn’t enough lubrication between layers, movement wouldn’t feel so good.
My point in explaining about “the stuff” is that all this stuff, including the fluid layers between, make noise. Joints are filled with water (synovial fluid) that also makes noise. Changes in pressure in the joint can make popping sounds. Fluid shifting in the joint and movement of layers of “stuff” creates vibrations that can be felt and heard such as knees that make noise when walking up the stairs.
Most folks tend to think that it’s the actually bones that make up the joints that is responsible for the noise. Most of the time, this is not the case. The fluid in the joints typically prevents any physical contact between the bones (http://www.biotensegrity.com/resources/in-vivo-obs-knee.pdf).
The most important aspect of joint noise that you need to understand is the difference between physiological joint noise that I’ve described above and pathological noise that’s associated with an injury or trauma.
For instance, if you have popping or clicking of your knee after a direct blow or twist of your knee joint, this noise may be associated with the trauma. In this case, it’s best to seek to have the knee evaluated by your friendly neighborhood physical therapist or other qualified health professional.
If you experience pain, redness, and/or swelling that is associated with joint noise, this too would be an indication that an examination of the knee is warranted to rule out any injury or trauma (Clin Orthop Surg. 2018 Mar; 10(1): 1–8).
The key point is to understand that joint noise is often quite normal and many times incidental. However, if your knee or any other joint becomes painful, swollen, or limited in any regard, play it safe and have it checked.
If you’re unsure of whether an injury would benefit from physical therapy or know someone struggling to get back to their active lifestyle, IFAST Physical Therapy in Indianapolis offers a FREE injury consultation.