What Causes Joints To Pop?

what-causesJoints sometimes pop, all by themselves. This is something that happens to literally everyone. The most common type of joint popping, by far, is the kind you tend to do yourself. Namely, “cracking your knuckles.”

In the 1970’s, what appeared to be definitive research was published that indicated the popping sound you hear when your joints pop comes from bubbles popping. Fluid built up in your joints gets suddenly released and makes the popping sound.

Unfortunately, it now appears that this is not the case. It turns out that the opposite is true, as demonstrated by new research out of the University of Alberta. Lead researcher Greg Kawchuk describes it this way:

“It’s a little bit like forming a vacuum…As the joint surfaces suddenly separate, there is no more fluid available to fill the increasing joint volume, so a cavity is created and that event is what is associated with the sound.”

What’s more interesting is the fact that this theory of what causes the popping sound was originally proposed in the 1940s, but was rejected in preference for the research published three decades later. However, it appears that now we have a firm, definitive answer.

There’s more to be said on the topic, however. Another common myth is that cracking your knuckles can cause arthritis. This is actually not the case. To date, there has never been a research study that offered conclusive evidence, or even a correlation between knuckle cracking and the development of arthritis.

This is not to say that it’s a good idea. There have been scattered, but well-documented cases of chronic knuckle cracking causing an overextension of the ligaments of the hand, and there’s at least one documented case of a teenaged girl who developed knuckle pads, which are firm nodules that can form over certain joints, including the joints in your fingers.

And now you know!

Prevent Falls To Avoid Injury

prevent-fallsIf you suffer from chronic pain, especially back pain, then you’re probably already a little unsteady on your feet. A fall of any sort can quickly make matters worse, and make the pain you’re already feeling almost unbearable. Anything you can do to minimize your chances of falling, then, is a win. Below, you’ll find some simple tips and tricks you can adopt right now that will help you reduce your risk of falling, and by extension, help make sure you don’t make the pain you already have even worse.

• Your shoes – First and foremost, you should be wearing them. Socks or stockings can be slippery, and slippery is a recipe for disaster. Further, when you wear shoes, rubber soles are best, because they offer more grip.

• A flashlight – Keep several handy, including one by your bedside. An alternate approach would be to install a number of night lights around the house. The goal here is simple. If you can see where you’re going, you’re less likely to fall.

• Improve your balance – This is as easy as taking the time to practice. Close your eyes. Stand on one leg for a slow ten count, maintaining your balance the whole time. Then switch to the other leg. Over time, this will help improve your balance markedly, and minimize your chances of falling.

• Use helpers – Use canes, walkers and the like. There’s certainly no shame in using them, and it’s a whole lot better than the alternative.

• More on shoes – This one should be obvious, but it bears mentioning anyway. More support is better, so stay away from flip flops and high heels.

• In the wintertime, be sure to walk on the grass if sidewalks are slick. If you must walk on the sidewalk, use rock salt or kitty litter on your walkways.

• Certain medications can cause or increase dizziness, which can increase your risk of falling. Be sure to take a moment to steady yourself when standing up before proceeding to walk.

Again, none of these things will reduce your chances of falling to zero, but taken together, they will do a lot to minimize your risks.

Is The Way You Are Sleeping Contributing To Your Pain?

is-the-wayWhen you suffer from chronic pain, you’re eager to latch onto just about anything that might help to lessen its impact on your daily life. One of the first things that most people reach for is sleep. Could it be that easy? Could simply changing the position you sleep in really have a big impact on your pain levels?

Actually, yes. It can definitely make a difference. There are four basic sleeping positions. We’ll cover each one below, along with their pros and cons. Pick the one that addresses the specific problem you’re dealing with.

Stomach – The biggest reason that people sleep on their stomachs is to prevent snoring, and it’s true. If you have sleep apnea, stomach sleeping is the best way to reduce, if not outright eliminate snoring. Unfortunately, it comes with a major drawback. It puts tremendous pressure on your spine, because your body just isn’t designed to sleep that way. No other sleeping position contributes more to back pain than stomach sleeping. If pain is your major issue, avoid this one.

Fetal – Sleeping in the fetal position is recommended for pregnant women. If you’re pregnant, this may, in fact, be about the only position you can sleep in comfortably. As with stomach sleeping, sleeping in the fetal position will do a lot to minimize snoring, but that’s about the only benefit it provides. Sleeping in that position causes you to spend most of the night with your spine in a highly compressed position, which can lead to adaptations of your muscles and ligaments, contributing to pain in your hips, neck and back. Not recommended in most cases.

Side Sleeping – A bit of a compromise, halfway between sleeping in the fetal position and sleeping on your back. Side sleeping is especially good for minimizing the symptoms of acid reflux, and has some benefits if the major pain you’re feeling is centered in your spine itself, because side sleeping helps keep your spine in a neutral position. It also provides some benefit if you snore, as you’re less likely to in this position.
Unfortunately, side sleeping may cause nerve compression in your shoulders and neck, so if your pain is centered in these areas, then side sleeping isn’t going to help you.

Back – Sleeping on your back is, overall, the best position for sleeping if you suffer from back, shoulder or neck pain. It helps keep your spine properly aligned all night, and offers the biggest reduction in pain levels. Unfortunately, sleeping on your back is also more likely to make you snore, so if you have sleep apnea, or other sleeping conditions, this may not be optimal, despite the benefits to your back and spine.

So which one is the best? Ultimately, that depends on what problem you’re trying to solve. There’s no simple answer here, but stomach sleeping is categorically the worst. The rest is at least somewhat subjective.

Will The Winter Cold Affect My Joints?

will-the-winterIf you have arthritis or joint problems, you’ve probably noticed it yourself. The pain tends to increase when the weather turns colder. Does that mean wintertime is the cause, or is it something else?

Actually, the science on this point is mixed. There have been some studies that point to a definitive link, while others find little to no direct relation between the two. The truth, then, is probably somewhere in between.

As almost anyone who has ever had to deal with arthritis or chronic joint pain can attest to, the cold weather certainly seems to make these types of aches and pains more common. But what’s really going on here? There are lots of different theories. Some of them seem pretty far-fetched, while others have an air of plausibility to them.

Take, for instance, the idea that changes in barometric pressure make joint pain worse. The idea here is that when it gets cold, barometric pressure drops. The atmosphere exerts less pressure, which lets joints expand, increasing pain.

Now, there’s some truth to this, and if you lived on top of some of the highest mountains in the world, you’d certainly feel it in your joints. That, however, isn’t true for most people, and at lower elevations, the change in pressure is so slight that it’s doubtful this has any real impact.

On the other hand, your body does react to cold weather. It goes into conservation mode. It tries to preserve as much heat as it can, and there is some scientific evidence to suggest that this heat preservation strategy can cause some of your nerve endings to misbehave and send more intense pain signals more often.

The most likely explanation, though, is simply this: When it gets cold out, our natural instinct is to bundle up, stay warm and not move around as much. The not moving around is what really gets people with joint pain in trouble. The longer you’re still, the stiffer those joints get, and when you finally do move, you’ll feel it.

The lesson here is simple. When the weather turns cold, keep moving! That’s the best way to minimize joint pain, no matter the weather.