Often when our joints creak, pop, or make a grinding noise we are left wondering…is this a bad thing? Does it mean I have arthritis or am getting arthritis? Or something else?
The good news: Most of the time, the noises your joints make are harmless. Only when there is pain or swelling is it time to make a visit to the doctor.
So What’s happening?
In case you are wondering, I’ll explain what is happening inside your joints that is making all that racket.
Later on I will give you a few things you can do about it. Plus a short list of what can run amok that will require medical attention.
Mostly it’s about knees and shoulders, which are the front runners when it comes to making noise. Why? Knees are a very vulnerable joint, and can break down easily. Shoulders are probably the most complex joint you have, since it can move in so many directions.
There are basically four reasons for the noise.
- Tendons rubbing over bone. They will move off their allotted space on your bone, and then make noise when they snap back into place.
- Ligaments that are tight. Same thing. They will make noise when they rub across your bones. Ligaments get tight when muscles are tight.
- Bits of cartilage that come loose (especially in the knee) because of wear and tear. They end up grinding on your bone or cartilage.
- Bubbles of nitrogen or carbon dioxide that escape from the tissues surrounding your joints and then burst. Mostly this would be from a useful joint lubricant called synovial fluid (more on this later).
Notice that your bones are really the innocent bystanders in this process. It’s what they call your “soft tissues” that are causing the noise. That’s muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Thing is, as we get older, these tissues are not as soft as they once were. Bummer, but that’s the truth.
What can you do about it?
- Move more, not less. Walk, bike, swim, whatever you like to do.
- Strengthen the muscles around the joints. This means strength training. Take the time to get advice on how best to get a comprehensive, safe plan for this. (Sorry, but just can’t do all that right here.)
- Stay flexible. Make sure stretching is part of your routine. Keep your joints in mind when you do this, and again, be as comprehensive as you can.
- Use a warm-up before you exercise. A warm-up is just that. It warms up those soft tissues so that they move more smoothly. In addition, it warms up the synovial fluid around each joint, which is huge for getting things lubricated and ready to go.
- Use a warm up even if you aren’t planning on exercising afterwards. Huh? Warm ups are underrated. You can throw them into your day whenever you are sick and tired of sitting or doing something else. Or even if you are just getting a little sluggish. They don’t take much time, and can be a massive win for your creaky joints. Again, you would want to get as many joints as you can moving with your warm up.
- Keep your weight down (see #1 below).
Here’s a short list of what is happening when creaky joints are accompanied by pain or swelling. In any case of pain or swelling you need to seek medical attention.
- It’s sometimes true that arthritis will happen. A recent study showed that in a large group of people with noisy knees, a high percentage did move on to arthritis. Please note that most of the people in the study were overweight, and the average age was 61.
- You can get inflammation of your synovial fluid for various reasons. This will lead to pain and swelling. Treatment varies for this, but you need to see a doctor.
- You might have had an injury or joint replacement that has created some scar tissue. This can cause problems down the road.
- There are some systemic diseases that can damage your joints. Most notably, rheumatic fever, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, septicemia. This is not an exhaustive list at all. Chances are you would already be seeing a medical professional in these and other cases.
The Bottom Line
In spite of the dire list mentioned above, most of the time your noisy joints are just that. Noisy joints. Keep yourself moving in as many ways as you can, and get it checked out if you have pain or swelling in any joint, noisy or not.
© 2018-2019 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.