Fitness and Performance

Physiotherapy Q&A: why do my joints crack? 

Sep 2 2021

Why do my joints crack, what’s physio tape for, does foam rolling help? These are questions we hear a lot, so we called in on Senior Bodyset Physiotherapist, James Bainbridge for a quick Q&A to set us straight. Here’s what he had to say…  

Why do my joints crack? 

Do you feel like your joints crack with a loud popping noise when you bend? Joints are capsules of synovial fluid for lubrication, which contains pockets of gas that help with fluid movement. During movement you can experience a rapid release of gas bubbles inside the joint capsules – specifically oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. This release of gas is what you hear when your joints crack. The gas is self-regenerating, and the cracking is rarely ever harmful, even if it’s accompanied by pain or other symptoms. If you’re experiencing pain in a joint that is cracking, then it’s most likely a coincidence. It’s unusual for the cracking sound to be a symptom or source of injury. That said, if you are experiencing pain (cracking or no cracking!) please do book in to see a physio at your nearest physiotherapy clinic for a full analysis. 

Should I use ice or heat on an injury?  

Both ice and heat can help to temporarily relieve pain, but they have no long-term benefits for recovering from an injury. Both methods help to desensitise the level of pain experienced through our skin and into nervous system. Whether you choose to use a hot or cold application, neither method will make an injury better or worse. It will simply relieve pain temporarily. Choose the method you prefer the most – just be sure to not to apply it for over 10 mins to avoid heat or ice burns.  

What’s ‘physio tape’ for? 

There are different types of tape. The most popular being K tape (the colourful elastic kind) and Zinc Oxide tape (normally white). Kinesiology Tape is a stretchy, sticky, cotton tape that’s applied to the skin to give light support and promote movement. When applied to the skin it can influence skin sensitivity and stretch reception at nerve level. In this way it can help us notice movement in our body and provide more confidence following muscular or tendon injury. Alongside a physiotherapy recovery programme, it can play a small but helpful role in rehabilitation. Plus, if you play sport, it’s a colourful way to ask others to be wary of that area – providing your opponents are good sportsman!   

Zinc Oxide is firm enough to restrict joint movement when applied correctly. This is useful when returning to sport after a ligament injury as it can help to supplement joint stability. When returning to sport and/or normal life activities after an injury, it’s important to reintroduce your body to movement in small and manageable steps.  

Should I use a foam roller? 

Foam rolling serves its best purpose when it has a direct influence on sore muscles by applying pressure the area to desensitise painful or sensitive tissue. Foam rolling can also help your muscles recover faster from training, increase flexibility and mobility without impairing strength and improve blood circulation which is beneficial for your overall health. You can choose to use a foam roller when you have sore muscles or incorporate it into your weekly performance plan. Try foam rolling a few times a week for 5 minutes at a time but be sure to avoid rolling directly onto your joints as it is designed specifically for muscles.  

When should I see a physio?  

If you’ve been experiencing a niggling pain for over 2 weeks, then now would be a good time to reach out for help. 2 weeks is generally enough time for your body to sort itself out without external help but if it has persisted then it’s unlikely that it will clear up on its own. Please note that if you’ve had a traumatic incident such as a sporting accident or a rapid onset of pain then do get in touch right away to avoid further injury.   

However, it’s important to note that physiotherapy is so much more than pain relief and injury recovery. It’s about enhancing people’s performance and everyday lives too. So if you’re looking to enhance your sporting performance or want to make everyday activities more comfortable and enjoyable then do get in touch.

Our Bodyset physiotherapists are passionate about helping you get the best out of your body so you can do more of what you love.  


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