If your knees grind, creak, grate, pop, thump, crack or crunch when you move through a particular range of motion, you have crepitus. Don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds. Get-Fit Guy explains why your joints make noise and what you can do about it.
Should You Worry About Your Creaking Knees?
Crepitus is usually not a cause for concern. In fact, it is considered pretty normal for our joints to pop or crack occasionally. It's when the crepitus is accompanied by swelling, areas of hot skin, or any pain in the joint that it may be an indication of something more serious.
But just because something is normal (especially in our sedentary society) doesn’t mean that we should just shrug our shoulders and give in. No way. That is not how we fit folks roll. What we do is work on finding the root of the issue and then do what we can to eliminate or at least manage the problem.
My thunking shoulder, for example, has become a hard target for my morning and evening warm-up and cool-down routines. And although it's still making an audible thunk, thanks to some love and attention, it isn’t getting worse, it still doesn’t hurt, and I can use that shoulder the same as I could when I was 20. #winning
What You Can Do About Crepitus
Here is a short list of tips for anyone who wants to do something about their creaking, clunking or cracking joints:
If there is tension in the area of your body around the creaking, we want to loosen it up and give it some space. To do this, we need to look for tightness above and below the area that is being noisy.
For example, if your knee is making a racket, you can stretch, foam roll, and massage just above the knee (suprapatellar pouch), the quads (rectus femoris), and calves (gastrocnemius) to relieve any tugging that could be contributing to the noisiness of the area.
Ideally, you would do this a couple times per day and spend a two to three minutes on each body part. Remember to actually lengthen a muscle, not just loosen it, it needs to be stretched for a lot longer than we think. Check out this episode The Truth About Flexibility vs. Mobility for more info on that.
Keep it Moving
Chronic sitting and general immobility puts our muscles’ attachment sites closer to each other, which requires our muscles to tighten (and shorten). This happens because our muscles never just flop around under our skin which is the double-edged sword of our muscular system. If we aren’t moving our muscles through their full ranges of motion on a regular basis, they respond by reducing their length and becoming tight. That, in turn, causes the tugging on the joints that I just mentioned and no matter how much foam rolling you are doing, you will have creaky joints.
This is why I told Brian not to use a knee brace. There is a time and a place for bracing an injured limb or joint but this is not it. In fact, bracing and limiting the joint's motion is the cause, not the cure, of this issue.
Poorly lubricated joints brought on by a lack of hydration can be the cause of many issues, including crepitus. Imagine your dehydrated knee joint as a squeaky old door hinge. If you lube it up with some grease, open and close the door a few times, the door will be quieter. The same can be said for our joints. Hydrate yourself properly (with water, not grease) and then move your body more and more often and your joints will be happier and quieter.
While I don’t usually get into nutrition (I leave that to the Nutrition Diva) and I don’t often get on board with vitamins in general (give me good old whole food instead), supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin may have some long-term benefits for your joints. Both are considered natural building blocks for the hyaline cartilage that covers the ends of bones. In a few studies, it has been shown to help reduce the crunchy noises associated with crepitus.
The new darling of the supplement aisle (at least for my mom and her arthritic friends) has been touted for everything from preventing blood clots, to fighting depression, combating obesity, regulating your cholesterol, and reducing inflammation (which it really does do). The other thing that turmeric has been proven to do is to be a natural painkiller. In fact, an evaluation of randomized clinical trials published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, found that 1,000 milligrams daily of curcumin extract (the active compound in turmeric) can be effective for the treatment of osteoarthritis.
It is thought to do this by reducing the levels of inflammation in the body which can also help with those creaks and cracks. In a paper called "The Spice for Joint Inflammation: Anti-Inflammatory Role of Curcumin in Treating Osteoarthritis, “crepitation” was one of the factors shown to be helped with turmeric supplementation. You can find out a lot more about turmeric by doing a search on Quick and Dirty Tips website.
When you have crepitus in the knee (or shoulder, neck or wherever), what you are really experiencing is consistent rubbing of bone on bone. And yes, that can lead to arthritis but until that point, this is not a disease or anything to fear. It is simply a mechanical situation that can be fixed—or at least maintained—with a little time, energy, and elbow grease.