Ask the Healthy RN: Popping Joints

by Joey Traywick

“What causes joints to pop and crack?- especially during weight lifting exercises like bench presses and military presses?” ~Stephanie S.

 

Joints pop and crack for a few different reasons, actually. The popping in your knuckles comes from nitrogen that is compressed in the space of the joints, naturally. I know, right? What’s THAT about? Believe it or not, through a process called cavitation, you get the knuckle popping sound that either is annoying to your spouse or elicits an empathetic response making everyone in the room want to do the same. Despite old wives tales, this kind of knuckle popping will not cause arthritis. But it may cause divorce if your wife hates the sound. #dontask

 

Another reason joints pop and crack is because either muscles or tendons are tight and they are literally rubbing over the bone. As we age (or as I like to say, as OTHER FOLKS age) the cartilage and bone wear away a bit more and make the surface less smooth, thereby creating more friction and ultimately more popping and cracking. The particular exercises you mentioned (bench press and military press) are intensive for the shoulder and quite frankly, there is just a LOT going on in those shoulders. There will be noise because there are lots of tendons, ligments and muscles moving over cartilage (and each other) in the shoulders whether you are lifting or not. Add some pressure and some rough surfaces and you may sound like an ad for Rice Krispies. Unless it is painful, most physicians I spoke with do not suggest that there is an underlying problem. However, if there is pain, see your doctor right away.

 

Of course, people want to know what they can do to minimize the popping and cracking. Just remember, MOTION is LOTION. Literally, moving helps to lubricate joints and decrease the friction between tendons and muscle and cartilage and bone. Stretching, using a roller and making sure you have a good bed under you at night can all help decrease the stress and degenerative process in your joints. Stay well hydrated and make sure you are getting lots of good “anti-inflammatory” nutrition (think Omega 3s and less sugar) and you might hear a decrease in the joint noise.

 

Author’s Note: I do not receive any additional compensation from Snap, Crackle or Pop or Kellogg’s Cereals. Have Fun!

 

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