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Can MS Cause Joint Cracking, Popping, or Stiffness?

Posted on May 09, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Simi Burn, PharmD

Some people with multiple sclerosis (MS) notice joint symptoms such as cracking and popping sounds, whereas others experience stiffness or pain. “Today is one of those somewhat rare days where every joint in my body decided to light itself on fire,” said one MyMSTeam member.

A joint is a part of the body where two bones meet. MS can indirectly cause pain in the joints because of the way the condition affects the musculoskeletal system in general. Your musculoskeletal system is made up of bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue.

If you’re living with MS, it’s a good idea to understand how the condition can affect your joints and what you can do to help manage symptoms.

How Does MS Affect Your Joints?

People with MS often have stiffness and pain that can affect any joint, such as the knees, hands, elbows, feet, ankles, lower back, hips, and shoulders. Some people notice joint cracking or popping.

Joint symptoms are not caused directly by MS but can be indirectly caused by nerve and muscle pain. This indirect effect of MS is different from the way some other health conditions cause joint symptoms. For example, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and lupus are direct causes of joint inflammation and pain. However, in MS, joint symptoms can occur as a result of nerve and muscle changes that eventually affect the joints.

MyMSTeam members have described their experiences with joint symptoms. “I am having a lot of pain in my right shoulder and elbow, mainly at night,” shared one member. Another said, “For the last two months, my elbows have been giving me so much trouble, my doctor tells me to get an elbow brace.”

Many people with MS experience muscle spasms. Spasms in the legs are connected with mobility and flexibility problems that can limit your range of motion and reduce support to the joints. Decreased movement can cause excess fluid buildup, which leads to swelling in the legs and ankles and can also cause joint symptoms.

MS can affect your walking (gait), posture, and balance because of muscle weakness, fatigue, or nerve changes. For many people with MS, ankle problems in particular can affect walking. When your gait changes with MS, it may lead to stiffness, spasms, or joint symptoms.

Another way MS can lead to joint problems is through loss of energy. Over time, muscle fatigue can cause the muscles to lose strength, which makes joints more vulnerable to pain, stiffness, and other problems.

Can MS Cause Joint Cracking, Popping, or Stiffness?

It’s important to remember that cracking, popping, or stiff joints are not necessarily related to MS. These symptoms could have other causes or be part of the natural aging process.

Why Do Joints Make Noise?

Although noisy joints are more common as people get older, anyone can experience the grinding, creaking, cracking, clicking, or popping sounds. These sounds can be muffled or easy to hear. Even though some people worry about them, joint noises are most often normal and do not usually require treatment or harm overall wellness.

For instance, noisy knees may be alarming, but no evidence suggests that knee sounds are associated with more knee joint problems. Some people intentionally “pop” their knuckles or other joints as a habit, but there is no proof that knuckle cracking causes permanent joint impairment.

The medical term for joint noises is crepitus. Here are some common causes:

  • A tendon or ligament can make a noise when it snaps over a bump in your bone or joint.
  • A ligament can tighten when you move, causing a snapping sound.
  • Bubbles of air can pop inside the synovial fluid (the fluid inside the joints).
  • Cartilage can wear away and cause osteoarthritis, in which rough areas in the joints make a grinding or crunching sound.
  • Tendon injuries or inflammation (tendinitis), such as tennis elbow, can lead to popping sounds.
  • Bursitis, which is the medical term for inflammation of fluid-filled joint cushions called bursae, can cause joint noises.

Managing Joint Noises and Symptoms With MS

As people get older, joint noises are very common and are usually no cause for concern. However, if you have joint noises along with pain or swelling, or you have been injured, it’s important to see a doctor or other health care professional. If your symptoms are getting more frequent or bothersome, it’s a good idea to seek medical advice.

A wide range of MS treatments may help ease joint symptoms by indirectly reducing other musculoskeletal problems with MS. For example:

  • Medication treatments for pain and muscle spasticity can help with joint symptoms indirectly.
  • Physical therapy, including strengthening exercises, balance training, and gait training, can help ease joint symptoms caused by mobility and fatigue problems.
  • Assistive devices and mobility aids, such as braces, poles, canes, crutches, scooters, and wheelchairs, can help some people with MS manage joint problems.
  • Resting and pacing physical activity sometimes provides the best options for reducing joint symptoms.

Overall, no two people with MS will have the same symptoms. People who live with MS and notice that their joint pain and other symptoms are worsening or progressing should speak with their doctor or medical professional.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 185,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.

Are you living with multiple sclerosis? Have you experienced joint stiffness or noises? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Simi Burn, PharmD is a seasoned pharmacist with experience in long-term care, geriatrics, community pharmacy, management, herbal medicine, and holistic health.. Learn more about her here.

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