Snap, crackle, pop

Listen when a yoga class does its first trikonasana of the day. Pop, pop, pop! You’ll probably hear a chorus of hip joints cracking.

The spine is just as prone to making sounds, especially when doing neck rolls and supine twists. Even simply lying down can readjust the sacroiliac joint with a little click. We also have our own quirkily click-y joints, whether it’s a right ankle or oft-clenched jaw.

Joint cracking can feel good. When my mid spine pops during a deep twist, I feel a pleasant release and can rotate further. Same with the femur-in-hip-socket example: this is the front leg during trikonasana or three-legged dog pose. Once the joint pops, I feel my hamstrings elongate with more ease. Ah!

But is such joint cracking (whether voluntary or involuntary) safe?

In his book YinSights (available online here), Bernie Clark writes a section called Fixation, in which he conjectures three reasons why joints make sounds:

  • Bubbles of nitrogen gas form in the synovial fluids of our joints, and they make a popping sound when released. Until another bubble forms, you won’t be able to pop the joint again.
  • Friction between tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and other tissue will make a sound  when rubbed together. This type of popping can be repeated again and again (example: cracking knuckles). While typically benign, friction-caused popping can aggravate injury if torn tissues are involved.
  • Fixation occurs when two surfaces temporarily adhere. When they release, they make a cracking sound. Like the popping from nitrogen-gas release, fixation popping happens only occasionally. According to Clark, breaking fixation is beneficial to prevent joints from becoming fused or otherwise limited in ROM.

So, barring injuries or nervous habits, joint cracking or popping seems acceptable. What’s your opinion on joint noises?

Image: Snap, Crackle, and Pop, Wikipedia

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12 thoughts on “Snap, crackle, pop

  1. As Paul Grilley said in a training I did last month, there will come a time when you will WISH you hear your spine popping and cracking.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. My knees pop (or crackle?) in every warrior I, II, and parsvokonasana just as I approach 90 degrees. Good to know that it’s probably ok. I would say it’s fairly common after I attended a yoga retreat with about 30 people this weekend. At the very first practice (after a 3-hour car trip to get there), our first bend into warrior 1 was a chorus of pops. It was so audible that it caused some surprise… and laughter.

  3. My shoulders pop LOUDLY during the first down dog of every practice… if I’m super tight, it doesn’t happen until the second. And both of my hips pop when coming into baddha konasana. Feels so good. I’ve worried about the spine cracking in twists, though. It seems like a sign that I’m using more leverage than core.

  4. Since I started yoga, I think I’ve gotten “poppier,” mostly because I’m getting more flexible and am twisting and folding my body in ways it never knew it could go. I just recently asked at a spine workshop about all the noises, and the instructor basically said, if it doesn’t hurt when it happens, you should be just fine. I worry, though, about some joints, like one of my ankles, that I can repeatedly pop by rotating. Could I be wearing down the cartilage or doing something similarly awful?

    1. One of my ankles is similarly talkative. Mine clicks not when I rotate it but when I shift my weight a certain way. But it is absolutely pain-free (and has never been injured) and seems strong and stable in one-legged balance poses and other ankle-intensive exercises.

      Let’s not worry until we have reason to worry! Keep me posted.

  5. I can pop my upper thoracic area just by taking a deep breath! When I hang in uttanasana, especially with arm bound behind the back reaching for the floor, or even the first time I lay flat on the floor and press my spine into the ground. I’ve always held alot of tension in my shoulders as a swimmer, and yoga has brought so much awareness to this area, I love hearing space open in my spine.
    And yes, Trikonasa hip pops are music to my ears as well!

    My wrist pops chronically as well. I am a graphic designer, and spend too many hours clicking away on a mouse. One pop I dislike.

  6. Hearing my joints pop actually gives me relief because I think of it as rearranging them in their best or proper position. But there were those that leave pain or discomfort after popping. I guess that is the one that’s dangerous.

  7. I’ve taken yoga for over 15 yrs; 2-3 times a week – advanced, hatha practices. I always have to warn a new instructor that all the warrior moves will make my body sound like a crackling fire. The noises are so loud that they are embarrassing; everyone stares as if my body’s going to explode! This isn’t painful when it happens; it actually feels good like a chiropractic adjustment would. However, later on at night; I feel sore and wonder if this aggravates or induces a form of arthritis (I’m 55). Sometimes, I’m so stiff at night that I can hardly move. By the morning, I’m fine again. I wonder if anyone else has experienced this delayed pain after a joint cracking, yoga class?

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