For many people, myself included, clicking joints or popping joints is a daily occurrence. Whether you’re walking up stairs, squatting to sit, jogging, or lifting weights you can’t help but be concerned about the clicking noise in your knee, elbow, or shoulder joints. This site will help you overcome minor joint ailments so that you don’t have to pay money to see an expensive physical therapist or doctor or throw money away on drugs that are unnecessary.
Is It Serious?
Physicians almost unanimously agree that a clicking or popping sound in your joints with little to no pain is not a reason to be alarmed. However, if you distinctly hear a “crunching” sound rather than clicking or popping you should see a doctor or physical therapist at some point in the near future. This is also true if you experience medium to high pain in the clicking joint or if you feel that the pain may be in the nerves rather than in the muscle or bone of the joint. Don’t let these conditions go unchecked as it could lead to long term damage. You should also see a doctor right away if you have a clicking or popping sound in your neck when you rotate or lift your head. These situations can be more serious, but typically a clicking joint is more annoying that threatening.
What Causes Joint Clicking?
In most cases, clicking in joints can be boiled down to six general causes:
- Lax Joints
- Bad Posture
- Poor Biomechanics
- Muscle Tension Imbalance
- Lack of Mobility
- Temporary Inflammation
Lax Joints are simply looser joints. This is often manifested in people who are “double-jointed”. In reality there is no such thing as being double-jointed but rather it is simply a condition in individuals who have more flexible or weaker connective tissue around those joints. Over time this can lead to a popping noise during certain movements because the bones/muscle are often extended beyond the normal range of motion for the joint. This is not a reason to be concerned but it should be noted that those with lax joints often face swelling and/or loss of grip strength in later years.
Bad posture and poor biomechanics can really be lumped into the same group. When we talk about bad posture here, we are not only referring to the typical talk about posture concerning a hunched over posture which is bad for your spine, but more specifically we are talking about bad posture in relation to how we stand, walk, and sit down. If you consistently stand with your knees completely locked, you can put unnecessary pressure on the knee joint causing a minor misalignment over time. Incorrect walking posture can also cause extra pressure on our knees and ankles causing the cartilage to wear more quickly. The correct walking posture has been documented quite thoroughly by many sources but to sum up – keep your chin parallel to the ground, do not sway your back, keep your abs tight and tuck your butt in slightly. You also want to roll from your heal to your toe; landing flat on your foot with each step can shock your joints. The most important biomechanic that we need to pay attention to is the motion we use when sitting down. When you squat or sit it is important to keep your knees positioned directly over your toes; do not allow them to collapse in. Proper alignment allows the hamstring to engage equally with the quad muscles, preventing extra torque on the patellofemoral surface which could otherwise lead to more serious long term conditions other than just joint clicking.
Muscle tension imbalances can arise from several different factors including years of sports training or lack of use of certain muscles. When opposing muscles get out of balance in our bodies (and there are many that work in opposition) it can cause the stronger muscle to overcompensate and will eventually lead to joints being out of alignment or being extended certain ways that they were not meant to be extended. This will almost always lead to clicking or popping in the joint and if left unchecked, may lead to injury.
Chronic habits in how we perform certain physical tasks can lead to a lack of mobility. For example, wearing a running shoe that doesn’t fit correctly or has too much padding in the heal can cause a lack of mobility in certain parts of the leg, especially the calf. A long term lack of mobility will cause stronger muscles to over compensate, much like with muscle tension imbalances, and will likely lead to the same consequences in regards to joint clicking and joint pain.
Temporary inflammation is usually caused by over exertion or minor tweaks during sports activities. This is often the case after jogging a few miles – you will notice that the clicking may be worse right after a workout but eventually goes away on it’s own. See below for more about what you can do to make this condition go away for good.
What Can You Do?
Fortunately, clicking or popping joints can be dealt with fairly easily with just a little bit of effort and discipline.
Stretching / Warming Up
One of the greatest improvements I’ve noticed in my joint clicking problem has been when I take the time to stretch and warm up before exercising at full speed. I play basketball at least once a week and I’ve noticed that if I don’t stretch and warm up my joints will be sore (inflamed) afterwards and will click more frequently as I walk/sit. Most importantly, I make sure to stretch my hamstrings, quads, and calf muscles after a couple of light jogs around the court. I don’t do anything special to stretch out; I just make sure I spend at least five to seven minutes stretching those three major leg muscle groups. This helps loosen up the muscles that have a direct impact on the knee joint. If you have clicking in your shoulder joint you can do arm stretches to help too – doing progressively larger arm circles (both forwards and backwards) will help loosen up the muscles around your shoulder joint and allow greater range of motion.
I’ve found that it also helps, after I’m done stretching, to massage the muscle/tissue directly above and to the side of my knee. During the winter months, I also physically warm-up my knee cap (patella) directly as it definitely reduces the amount of clicking and the mild discomfort that arises from time to time as I play basketball.
On days that I am not performing strenuous exercise (which is most days!) I will do a set or two of squats with no weights while standing near a desk or chair, holding on for support. When performing the squat it is important to keep your back straight, your head up, and keep your knees over your toes. Do not lean too far forward as this will put unnatural pressure on your knees and ankles; try to keep your butt back as if you are sitting in an invisible chair. It will be harder to perform this way but the benefits are worth it. If I’m feeling ambitious I will also throw in a set of squat thrusts, although I wouldn’t recommend doing this in the office as you might look rather ridiculous!
Being consistent with these light exercises helps make sure that the proper muscles are in good balance with each other and will provide very good support around the joint, which leads to healthier and longer lasting joints. For more information on strengthening exercises for joints read our article on isometric and isotonic exercises that you can do in your own home.
Ok, so this is my biggest secret to relieve clicking joints! I discovered glucosamine chondroitin while I was playing minor league football in the Midwest in my late twenties. I was near the end of my career and a teammate suggested that I try it after I complained about my joints just not feeling as flexible as they did when I was younger. Let me tell you it worked great! Although my playing days are long gone, I still take glucosamine chondroitin on a daily basis for its joint and health benefits. Officially, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are natural substances found in and around the cells of cartilage. Glucosamine is an amino sugar that the body produces naturally and distributes in cartilage and connective tissue. Chondroitin sulfate is a complex carbohydrate that helps your cartilage retain water. Together they keep your joints well lubricated and allow your cartilage to perform it’s job of providing cushioning to your body’s tissues and bones.
Not only does glucosamine chondroitin keep your joints healthy, it also has a full day’s worth of vitamin C to help fight against germs that may cause a common cold. Double bonus!
If you have minor joint pain, clicking joints, or loss of flexibility in your joints, you will definitely want to try glucosamine chondroitin. You will start to notice a big difference after just a couple of days. Most products on the market will suggest take one pill with each meal (three times a day) but I’ve noticed that even taking one or two doses a day helps a lot!
In summary, clicking joints and popping joints are not a reason to go straight to a doctor; there are many things you can do on your own to help prevent clicking joints. I’ve given you my personal routine for overcoming clicking joints in my own life and I am confident that you can do the same. My biggest piece of advice is to try taking glucosamine chondroitin as it has made a very noticeable difference in my joint health even at a relatively young age!