If It Pops, Should You Stop?

Dr. John looking at a patients knee after the joints popping

You’re in the middle of competing and there it goes… The biggest pop you’ve ever heard your knee make before!  Startled and a little wary of what to do next?  That is totally normal.  But what do my joints popping really mean?  Is it bad?  Let’s find out!  With a focus on BJJ as a sport let’s gain a deeper understanding of the pop and when you feel or hear it, when you should stop.  

What Is The Pop?

The sound that you hear when your joint pops is actually the joint opening up past a point of flexibility that it hasn’t been in a while.  In all of our joints there is fluid that helps keep our bodies moving.  This is called synovial fluid.  You can think of it kind of like our version of engine oil to our cars.  Each joint has 5 grades of mobilization (this is a pretty complicated subject so we aren’t getting too into it).  The 5th and final grade is the equivalent of going for a chiropractic adjustment.  When we move out of our normal range of motion our fluid bubbles up. When the pressure is released in the joint we hear a popping sound.

Why Joints Popping Isn’t Always Bad

Many people associate the popping of a joint negatively, especially when performing physical activities.  We need to be cautious of the pop but it doesn’t always mean that we’ve broken or torn something.  We know that the pop sound we hear in our joints means that we are moving past our normal range of motion by using force.  It’s very likely that it means nothing more!  When it comes to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), it’s part of the sport to have a great deal of pressure on your joints from an opponent (If you’re unfamiliar with the sport, BJJ is a type of martial arts teaching self defense, ground fighting, grappling, and using submission holds).  Because of the sports nature, leg entanglements can cause you to move in unnatural ways.  The massive amount of pressure felt can often be followed by a pop.  Then what?

Rene Sousa doing a buggy choke. with both legs in hip flexion

Should You Stop?

The answer is YES!  You should not keep pushing.  It is possible to go past the 5th grade of mobilization and when that happens, injury occurs.  The next pop you feel or hear may very well be detrimental to your health.  The joint popping is typically bad when followed by extreme stabbing pain, a lot of instability (feeling wobbly), and lots of swelling.  If you have these symptoms and they don’t subside in the first 24 hours, you should see a doctor to assess what the issue is.  If you feel a pop and within a few minutes you’re able to put weight on the joint as well as pain subsides, it’s highly likely you didn’t hurt yourself. 

No matter what sport you’re in it’s very important to take the proper precautions.  Stop what you’re doing and assess what the joint popping really was instead of continuing on. 

Ask Yourself A Series of Questions:

  • Do I have sharp stabbing pains?
  • Can I put weight on it?
  • How much swelling Is there?

You may feel some discomfort or pain in the area, but if you aren’t dealing with the symptoms above you should be safe to continue as soon as you feel ready! 

Rising Star BJJ Athlete Rene Sousa asks the question "What Should I do?" Watch this video on joints popping!

Prevent Joints Popping

In BJJ to win you don’t want to “submit yourself”.  When you submit it means you’re tapping out because you’ve hit your limit before getting injured.  So how do you push past your regular limits?  The answer is to improve the overall mobility of your joints.  Improving joint mobility means you’re less likely to pop because you have better range of motion.  Remember, mobility to us isn’t just flexibility.  A very flexible joint without strength and stability is just as dangerous as an inflexible joint with a lot of strength.  You can use this tactic no matter what sport you’re in.  Improving all 3 aspects of your joint mobility will help you eliminate every day pops. 

Remember, If it pops, STOP!

Next week we are releasing a special mobility warm up specialized for BJJ athletes!  Subscribe to our YouTube Channel for its release and more great mobility content! 

If you’re looking to take the question out of your mobility and strength routine try MDFit.  We want to support your fitness, not replace it.  This program offers 3 – 30 min classes a week to boost your overall foundation to help you do what you love longer.  

We are bringing you something a little different and very special!  Mobility-Doc is introducing a new video-podcast called Table Time!  Table Time will be a YouTube Podcast featuring our athletes and patients!  This series allows us to get up close and personal with some pretty cool people while gaining a deeper understanding of their sport, and what they’re bringing to the table.  We are working on our first episode now!  Stay tuned for its release!

Who Runs the World?


A patient for the last 6 years, it has been our privilege to cheer on one of our most decorated runners.  Mary Ellen, 71 years old, started running after the age of 50.  She has completed a marathon on every continent and a half marathon in every state!  She also completed the Abbott 6 which includes: 

  • Tokyo Marathon
  • Boston Marathon
  • London Marathon
  • Berlin Marathon
  • Chicago Marathon
  • New York City Marathon

Not slowing down anytime soon, her latest accomplishment was the 2023 Disney World Marathon where she ran a 5k on Friday, 10K on Saturday, and a 10 Miler on Sunday!  We can’t wait to see what goals you set for yourself next!  

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