I’m sure you’ve experienced clicking joints at some point in your life… Whether it’s a daily occurrence as you get out of bed and take a walk to the bathroom, or from your knuckles – that you enjoy cracking maybe a little too much!

Why do clicking joints happen? And more importantly, is it an indication of something more serious? It’s another question that I get asked a lot and I thought I’d take the time to give you the low down on clicking joints, what actually causes this, and when it could be dangerous. Read on…

What Makes A Joint

Fit woman stretching
Stretching is great for your joints!

 

The bones are arranged in a way that means under normal circumstances they don’t touch. The ends of each bone are covered in cartilage which is a resilient and smooth elastic tissue with rubber-like padding that covers and protects the end of bones at the joints. A joint is basically two bones coming together, bound by some tendons, ligaments, and muscles. More importantly, though, each joint has a capsule and contained inside this capsule is a tiny amount of synovial fluid that reduces friction between the joints.

How Synovial Fluid Causes Your Knuckles To Crack

 

When you pull the joint capsule ends either with normal movement or forceful actions like knuckle cracking, you essentially make the joint capsule bigger.

The amount of fluid within the joint does not change but some of the gases dissolved inside are released. “Air” bubbles form very quickly to fill the empty space. The process of these bubbles forming is called cavitation and because the release of gas happens so fast, a sound is produced and that sound is the infamous crack.

Why Cracking Your Knuckles (Or Any Other Joint) Could Be Bad For You

Clicking joints are not usually a cause for concern. They click because of the gas and this is a completely natural process. If you crack your joints often, though, the change of pressure will inevitably affect the ligaments. In fact, micro-injuries can happen with every single click. That is why I encourage my clients to slowly stretch before and after exercise. My rule of thumb here is to focus on active (yet still gentle) stretching and mobility exercises before the workout session and on slower passive stretches afterwards.

When Clicking Joints Are A Cause For Concern

Although clicking joints are usually nothing to worry about, there are some cases where an underlying condition is causing them. These usually fall in one of two categories: inflammation or injury. The difference is in the timing. It would be days, weeks, or even months before an inflamed tissue around the joint cause’s pain. If there was injury, though, you would know right away, especially if you tore a thick tendon.

Injuries That Could Cause Clicking Joints

At the extreme level one of the loudest sounds your body can make is if your Achilles tendon snaps. This is the thick cord that connects your ankle to the back of your lower leg and if it ruptures the sound is similar to a gun being fired!

A tear is more subtle and if it didn’t happen at the moment of high tension on the tendon, the tearing of your heel cord could resemble a joint cracking. If you hear your ankles clicking and you suspect there could be some injury, observe yourself in the next few hours. Is there any pain or swelling? If so, chances are you could have damaged the tendon and it would be a good idea to have it checked out by a doctor.

Another common injury is twisting your knee. This type of injury usually happens to football players but with a bit of bad luck, you could even injure your knee running on the treadmill. The clicking sound, in this case, often means you may have damaged the cartilage as well. Once again, talk to a doctor and try to put as little pressure on the joint as possible.

Clicking and pain in your feet or toes could be the unexpected consequence of wearing uncomfortable shoes. I have seen it happen to a few of my female clients that were particularly fond of high heels. As hard as it might be, try to switch to flats and the problem usually subsides.

Clicking Joints And Inflammation

Arthritis is the generic term used to describe inflammation of the joints. As scary as it may sound, joint inflammation happens to a lot more (and more diverse) group of people than you might expect. It’s not just reserved for the elderly, I have met girls as young as 17-18 suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Although there are over a hundred types of arthritis the two most common are:

  • Osteoarthritis that comes with age and it affects virtually all joints in your arms and legs
  • Rheumatoid arthritis which is an autoimmune disorder, essentially your own immune system turning against your joints.

Sometimes clicking joints and pain can mean a serious underlying issue

Although arthritis patients require complex therapy (that this article won’t do justice), there are a couple of tell-tale signs that your clicking joints could be arthritis:

  • Trouble moving the joint
  • Pain and stiffness, especially in the morning
  • Muscle aches around the joint
  • Secondary effects on your entire system – weight loss, poor sleep, fatigue, loss of muscle flexibility or even function. Make sure you watch out for these and seek medical advice if you notice any of them.
Sometimes clicking joints and pain can mean a serious underlying issue

 

More Reasons For Clicking Joints And How To Improve Them

Sometimes the problem just can’t be explained. An old injury that didn’t heal properly, an incorrect alignment of your joint, over-exercising, all of these could cause clicking joints. Here are a few tips to minimise the cracking:

  • Stretch properly before exercise. It improves joint mobility and it also increases the flexibility of the tendons. This way, you are less likely to suffer an injury.
  • Have at least one rest day per week. Less can sometimes be more! Especially if you are a beginner. Overdoing it could cause injury.
  • Make sure you have enough nutritious food in your diet and you’re properly hydrated. A few of my favourite, joint-friendly foods are nuts and berries(loaded with healthy antioxidants that fight inflammation), oily fish like salmon (for the joint, and brain, healthy omega-3’s), and the occasional steak (that contains all important amino acids for your joint fluid).

To help you get started on your way to healthier joints, here is my favourite pre-workout active stretching routine:

  • Push-ups with a twist – a regular push-up except you extend an arm when you come up. I usually do at least ten. If you can’t do a standard push-up yet, going on your knees is perfectly fine as well.
  • Stretch walking lunges – I have my clients do a few laps around the gym, alternating legs on each step. Just make sure your knees never pass your toes.
  • High knees with a knee to chest – Essentially, you do three to five high knee jumps and then you hold your knee to your chest for five seconds. Spend at least five minutes on this and your knees will thank you.
  • Inward and outward foot rolls – The most basic of exercises but it makes the world of a difference, especially in clients with feet issues or pain.

So in closing are your clicking joints anything to worry about? Well, if you don’t experience any pain, then NO. But if the joints are painful, swollen or restricted in anyway it could be the signs of something more sinister and you need to visit your GP to find out exactly what is going on.

 

 

What helps your clicking joints? Do you have any tips or questions for me? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!

David