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Crepitus - noisy joints
By: Meg Surmon

Having coco pops in your joints is called crepitus. Most commonly in the knees. When squatting or lunging the movement is audible or can be felt under the skin. It is not just a condition of old age, it can result from wear and tear related to injury and movement mechanics.

A trip into the joint will help to explain it. The joint of the knee, for example, includes the knee cap or patella and the ends of the bones of the lower limb and upper limb. These bony parts are joined to and by tendons, ligaments and shock absorbing cushions and fluid encased in the tendons that keep the joint together. Physio 101.
When the joint functions perfectly well, as nature intended, all the parts move smoothly and there is no pain or strange noises. The soft tissue within the joint is able to perform it’s purpose with minimal wear and tear. That also means the bony parts get maximum protection from wear and tear also. They remain smooth and therefore offer little resistance to movement.

If these soft structures are not working properly then they incur damage beyond the usual wear and tear expected of a joint. When the soft parts are moving out of alignment due to muscle imbalance or sports related repetitive movements, they begin to rub and bits break off over time like a well worn piece of cloth. This can happen to the smooth ends of bone also. Bony ends are meant to be super smooth and therefore reduce friction when moving. Once they are out of alignment (forced to move out of normal pattern by muscles) they begin to chip and fray on the smooth ends. This debris gets caught in the joint capsule.
So the crunch may be the rough surface of bone and soft tissues moving in the joint. Also, the debris can give rise to restricted movements, ‘locking’ sensations, sudden stabbing pain that moves with a shake of the joint.
This can be cleaned out with arthroscopic surgery. Patella’s can be scrapped smooth also. New soft tissue can be added from elsewhere in the body but is very rarely successful as the soft structures are often very specific to the function of each joint.

If you suspect arthritis check with your GP. Some types of auto immune attack responds to exercise and movement as it increases the fluid in the joint and so relieves the pain by making the joint move more freely. There are more serious causes of crepitus which are often quite painful and should be clarified with a medical practitioner.
Best way to avoid it is keep the joint healthy. Maintain good muscle balance so the force of the muscles attached to bones doesn’t pull them out of optimal alignment. For example, patella tracking problems are related to a dominant inside or outside quad (thigh) muscle. This pulls the patella out of alignment and so it moves out of its natural groove. Gets rough and starts to be crunchy and deposits debris in the joint. Poor posture in the upper back leads to the bones and soft cushions of the upper spine to move out of alignment and produce crunching sounds or creaking. In this part of the neck it is also likely to lead to disc herniations.

Also consider supplements like glucosamine (condriotan has some pretty patchy results), fish oil supplements are also great for joint health.

A well balance exercise program will help to maintain balance of the muscles. Strengthen the weaker ones and stretch the tight ones to ensure correct alignment.

Added: 22-09-2011