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Monday, Aug. 10, 2020



Why are my joints so noisy?

We’ve all experienced it: Knees that snap when we stand up, a neck that cracks when we turn our head and ankles that pop when we rotate them. Often, joint cracking can be loud – and perhaps a little disconcerting. It is no wonder that many people think there might be something wrong with their joints when they hear them snapping, popping and cracking. Creaking and snapping joints can be annoying, but for the most part, they are nothing to worry about.

Unless ... popping and cracking are accompanied by pain and swelling.

These “pops” are not good. These painful joint noises are often the result of an injury and need to be addressed sooner versus later.

Why do joints make noise?

I hear about creaky joints from patients of all ages almost every day, and the bottom line is that joints just make noise. Some of the more common reasons for popping joints:

• Nitrogen bubbles: The joints surrounding tissues make synovial fluid to lubricate the surrounding area, protecting them from abrasion as you move. Nitrogen bubbles, a component of this fluid, often form in your joints. The cracking is the sound of gas being released from the joint, an action called cavitation. This process often occurs unintentionally when you walk, exercise or get up from a still position. It takes time for nitrogen bubbles to form again, which is why you can’t repetitively crack the same joint until about 10 to 30 minutes pass.

• Ligament movements: Ligaments are composed of strong, fibrous connective tissue that connects bones to each other. Your ligaments can be tight and may pop when you suddenly move or rotate at an unusual angle.

• Rough joint surfaces: People often notice that their joints seem to make more noise as they get older. There is a good reason for that. The older you get, the more noise your joints can make, because some of your cartilage wears away as part of the normal aging process. The surfaces get rougher, and your joints get a little noisy when they rub together. Joint sounds can come and go, depending on how you position your body when you sit and sleep, the amount of exercise you get, your age and just general wear and tear.

What’s that sound?

There are a few reasons why your joints snap and crack. If you are at the gym doing repetitive exercises, such as lifting weights or pushups, you might notice a clicking or soft snapping sound each time you bend your arm or leg. This sound may be indicative that a muscle is tight and is rubbing and causing friction around the bone. The sound also could be coming from tendons rubbing over the bone. In this instance, stretching before exercise can help to reduce the joint noise. The shoulder is one of the noisiest joints, particularly during exercise. There are a lot of moving parts in the shoulder and several tendons that move over bones, often resulting in snapping and cracking noises.

What about cracking your knuckles?

When you crack your knuckles, the sound is the result of the compression of nitrogen bubbles (cavitation) that naturally occur in the spaces of the joints. Even though you may have been told that cracking your knuckles will cause you to suffer from arthritis or make your knuckles swell or get larger, there actually is no scientific evidence to prove this.

Popping and pain: Time to see a doctor?

If you hear or “feel” a popping sound in a joint, and it is accompanied by pain or swelling, you may have an injury that requires treatment. You should see your doctor if popping is accompanied by:

• Pain

• Swelling

• Bruising

• Limited range of motion

The joint suddenly locks up after it pops. Cracking noises, which often sound like popping and often can be a sign of problems that require treatment, like gout, ligament tears, inflammation and joint dislocation.

How to avoid creaky joints

Move, move, move! You can avoid creaking joints by getting up and moving throughout your day. The more you move, the more your body lubricates itself. If you are sitting or lying around, the fluid in your joints doesn’t move either. Activity and movement mean lubricated joints.

My partners and I want to wish you and your loved ones continued health and safety during these challenging times … mask up, keep some distance, wash your hands and, most of all, know we’ll get through this together!

Val Irion, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and joint replacement. To learn more about Dr. Irion and the team at Orthopedic Specialists of Louisiana and Specialists Hospital Shreveport, please visit: orthopedicspecialistla.com. or specialialistshospitalshreveport.com


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