We've all experienced it before: the popping in the knee when we squat down; the clicking in the shoulder when we reach overhead; the snapping in the hip when we stand up; the cracking in the ankle when we go up or down the stairs... Is this serious or are you breaking apart?
These sounds can be loud and a little disconcerting. However, for most people, when these sounds happen without the presence of pain, it is completely harmless. Cracking and popping noises occur naturally as we age; the cartilage on the joints wear and tear, and the surfaces become uneven. What you're hearing are the sounds of rough spots rubbing against each other, or tendons/ligaments rubbing over bone, or even just air bubbles or gas popping from changes in pressure. They're annoying, but they're nothing to worry about. The belief that cracking your knuckles will cause arthritis is false; there's no research to back it up! In order to avoid creaky joints, it's important to move. Motion is lotion, and the more you move, the more your body lubricates itself.
So when is cracking or popping a bad thing? If it's accompanied by pain or swelling, then you need to take it more seriously as it could be caused by something that is out of alignment. Possible causes may include a meniscal tear, a labral tear, broken pieces of cartilage, chipped pieces of bone, or other dislodged pieces of debris. The key is to seek intervention early so that recovery is more successful. If you're still worried, make sure you seek a healthcare professional to get a proper assessment!