Noisy joints...? What do those crepitus clicks and pops mean?
Osteoarthritic (OA) changes
OA is the wear and tear overtime of cartilage (bony surfaces in joints). OA has been shown to be responsible for 65% of noisy joints in people aged 40 and above.
However, these clicks and pops are seen in athletic individuals as well, often complaining of shoulder, elbow or wrist pain. OA changes happen throughout all joints of the body and at different rates, most commonly seen first in mobile load bearing joints such as the knee, hip or spine.
Joints depend on muscles to perform movement. Poor balance of muscular strength and/or tension can also be a root cause of crepitus noises during movement.
Significant differences in strength and/or tension can lead to abnormal paths of movement within the joint. This leads to uneven pressure, poor quality of joint movement together with crepitus noises, overtime leading to cartilage overuse and damage.
Joint capsule damage
Joint capsule injuries happen most often during sport or accidents/falls. These large stresses disrupt a joints' function to remain stable. Micro- or large tears may happen in this case, with reports of painful ‘pops’ arising from the joint during movement. If left untreated it may lead to chronic joint instability.
What should you do if you have crepitus joints?
Through musculoskeletal assessment a physiotherapist will narrow down the source of pain and clicking.
Hands-on joint mobilisation might be needed to stretch tight structures and open up more free space within the joint surfaces.
If muscular imbalances are present, strengthening and lengthening certain muscles will be needed, allowing the joint to move more freely.
Taking supplements such as Chondroitin, Glucosamine, Fish oils have been shown to aid to optimise the joint functions. Magnesium will act as a natural muscle relaxer.
In summary, if you experience crepitus noise from joints - whether it is painful or pain free - it is recommended to be examined by a physical therapist to determine the source of the noise and prevent/limit further injury.