Has bending your knees ever resulted in a popping or cracking sound? If it’s not accompanied by knee pain, chances are it’s a harmless occurrence called crepitus. Characterized by a crack or crunch brought on by moving the joint, it’s actually a pretty common phenomenon that doesn’t necessarily indicate a larger problem.

But this isn’t always the case. Whether you have pain or not, sometimes knee popping is a warning sign that a more serious condition is lurking behind the symptom. Concerned about creaky knees? Here’s everything you need to know about these noisy joints.

It Could Very Well Be Nothing

The knee’s anatomy includes something called the synovium, which surrounds and lubricates the joint itself. According to Healthline, that cracking sound you hear comes when small gas bubbles in the synovial fluid rupture, popping the ligaments in the process. Experts say this kind of crepitus is normal, often painless, and generally not a sign of trouble.

It Might Indicate Arthritis

That said, not all knee popping is created equal. According to a recent Reuters report, it might also predict future arthritis. Even though early-stage arthritis may be evident in an X-ray, it doesn’t always cause pain. As such, crepitus can sometimes be a hint that arthritis and knee pain are in your future.

In other cases, regular wear and tear can take a toll on the cartilage in the knee, causing bones to rub against each other upon bending. This can result in noisy knees and pain, as well as potential joint damage down the line.

An Injury Can Cause Knee Popping

Sustaining an injury can also bring about knee popping, but the important thing to remember is that other symptoms usually come into play. If you have a torn meniscus, for example, you may also experience knee pain, swelling, stiffness, or difficulty straightening your knee—in addition to knee popping. Similarly, “runner’s knee” (formally known as patellofemoral pain syndrome) may cause tender knee caps as well as a clicking or grinding sound.

How to Keep Knee Popping at Bay

Insiders at WebMD say that regular exercise can help strengthen and protect knees, just be sure to warm up beforehand as failing to do so could prime your knees for injury. The same goes for stretching. Maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding ill-fitting shoes can also protect your knees from injury and help stave off crepitus.

If you’re experiencing persistent knee pain or knee popping, connecting with a specialist is always a good idea. Rest easy knowing that there’s no need to rush into surgery. In fact, of the thousands who undergo knee surgery every year, many are left no better than when they started. At Flexogenix, we specialize in cutting-edge, non-surgical treatment options, and can help you move past achy knees and into your best life—without invasive surgery.