Clicking Joints During Exercise: Should You Be Concerned?

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Clicking Joints During Exercise: Should You Be Concerned?

Firstly, joint clicking falls under the category of joint popping, which can be classified as physiological or pathological.

For instance, it’s quite common for joints to click during exercise, especially in the shoulder, knee, elbow, and ankle joints. Even cracking your knuckles is a form of joint popping that many people find satisfying and consider it a way to relax their fingers.

When we visit a massage therapist, they might gently twist our neck or move our head to produce a popping sound, and this is considered normal.

Therefore, if your joints only make noise during exercise and you don’t experience any pain or discomfort, most likely, it’s a physiological joint popping, and there’s generally no issue. You can continue your training as usual. This noise often occurs when the joint, after a period of rest, suddenly experiences traction and flexion, leading to a crisp sound, possibly the bursting of bubbles within the joint cavity.

To confidently determine that your joint popping is physiological and not a cause for concern, you can consider the following conditions:

  1. The joint should not pop repeatedly in a short time after the initial pop; there should be a significant gap, possibly several minutes, between occurrences.
  2. The popping sound should occur only when the joint experiences sudden force or abrupt movement.
  3. There should be no pain or discomfort before, during, or after the joint popping. Instead, you might experience a sense of relaxation.
  4. The sound produced should be crisp.

If you notice continuous clicking during movement without pain, it could be due to insufficient synovial fluid lubrication, leading to friction between bones. While short-term friction may not pose a problem, prolonged friction can potentially result in joint wear, such as patellar softening in the case of the knee joint.


Solution:

  1. Extend the duration of aerobic warm-up before exercise. For example, if your warm-up was 5 minutes before, try increasing it to 10 minutes. Incorporate joint movements such as shoulder rotations, slow high leg lifts, knee circles, and mini squats, with each movement lasting about 1 minute. These activities help lubricate the knee joint and reduce friction. Poor body posture can contribute to joint popping. Incorrect alignment of the body can lead to tight tendons, ligaments, or fascia, insufficient muscle elasticity, and flexibility. During movement, these soft tissues may create sounds as they pass over protruding bone areas. For instance, individuals with X/O-shaped legs may experience more popping and wear in the knees during bending. Those with rounded shoulders and a hunched posture may encounter joint wear sounds during shoulder movements.
  2. Improve your posture and consider regular foam rolling and stretching to relax muscles, which can contribute to improvement.


If the joint popping is continuous during exercise and accompanied by pain or discomfort, it could be pathological joint popping. In such cases, it is advisable to seek medical attention. Consultation with an orthopedic specialist and physical therapy can be beneficial, but avoid relying on massage parlors for treatment.

If discomfort arises with joint popping during exercise, it’s essential not to insist on completing the planned workout. Ignoring pain during exercise can lead to injuries. I had a similar experience with my shoulder joint. I felt pain during a workout but continued without stopping due to peer pressure. Unfortunately, this led to an injury.

If you still want to exercise, consider reducing the weight or changing to an angle that doesn’t cause popping or discomfort. For example, during shoulder presses, if your shoulder pops when fully extended, but not at a 45-degree angle, opt for the 45-degree angle. However, it’s best not to push yourself too hard.

If a medical examination reveals an issue and the doctor recommends rest, but you are concerned about impacting your fitness goals, you can adopt a unilateral training approach. This involves resting the injured side while training the other side. Some studies suggest that unilateral training can still lead to strength improvements on the rested side.

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