As a physio of 14 years, I had this question thousands of times. It’s a genuine concern for patients and this is a blog to reassure them…noisy joints without pain are extremely common and are not associated with structural damage. In fact, a paper in 2018 (1) found these sounds are not related to function, physical activity or strength.
Health professionals who disregard these patient concerns, however, will affect their recovery as patients feel they aren’t being listened too. This is fair enough.
Noisy joints can be scary if it’s a new experience.
Usually, the sounds are caused by movement in the natural fluid in the joint (synovial fluid), or the flicking of soft tissue over other normal anatomical structures like bone. Try not to protect the joint or change your movement behaviour at the joint if you have heard something, otherwise this can cause compensatory pain somewhere else. Be reassured that this is normal and go about your day.
On the other hand, if you’ve had pain or swelling as well as an obvious sound particularly after a traumatic incident like a fall, then you should seek professional advice.
Please contact me if you have any concerns and we can assess the joint and make a plan… firstname.lastname@example.org