We’ve all heard our joints popping. But is all that cracking and creaking normal or a sign that your joints are yelling for help?

The good news is your snap, crackle, and pop is usually a harmless byproduct of joint movement. A common cause of joint cracking is gas – carbon dioxide gas, that is. Synovial fluid, which contains dissolved gasses, provides lubrication and nourishment to the joint. When the joint ligaments are stretched, the pressure in the joint changes and releases carbon dioxide bubbles which make a cracking sound when burst. You may even notice a temporary increase in the range of motion in the joint after the pop.

Another common benign cause of popping doesn’t actually come from the joint. It occurs during movement when the tendons and ligaments that support the joint shift position, making a snapping noise when they return to normal position.

Common joint cracking can even be a good thing — it can keep joints from stiffening. When motion is decreased, joints lose function. That said, you’ll want to avoid forcing a crack because repeatedly wrenching against natural range of motion can damage the joint tissue and may cause problems in the supporting framework, such as your back.

Not all joint sounds are so innocent, however. If you hear crunching, grinding, or clunky noises, this could be an indication of cartilage damage resulting from a myriad of catalysts including injury, overuse, aging, or onset of arthritis. Without other systems such as pain, swelling or instability, these noises are usually harmless, but consulting a doctor is always a safe bet if you’re concerned.

The potential for noise resulting from joint degeneration increases as cartilage (the cushion in your joint) begins to wear down from years of use, which can lead to joint inflammation and pain. Inverted decompression can help maintain joint health as you age, aiding in joint lubrication by altering the pressure and suction forces within the joint. This helps to stimulate the synovial fluid that nourishes the cartilage and enhance shock absorption. Mobilization and gentle loading of ligaments can help to increase the collagen content of the tissue, which results in increased ligament strength. Strong ligaments and muscles are vital for proper joint support, and help to protect against injury.

Just as you brush your teeth every day to maintain your dental health, you should attend to the health of your spine and weight-bearing joints with a healthy routine.