‘My shoulders/knees/neck make a dreadful crunching noise when they move!’ I am frequently told. These noises go by the wondrous name of crepitus and, unless it hurts, it really doesn’t matter. What causes crepitus? Many things; examples are ligaments twanging over joints, little air pockets, the little oil producing sacs in the joints called bursa making a popping noise, or maybe wear and tear in the joint – osteoarthritis. This vaguery as to the cause of the noises leads them going by the even better name of General Crepitus. Almost certainly an MRI scan would show horrible things happening in the joint – but unless there is pain, these noises do not matter.
Not only do they not matter, sometimes it can be a sign that the joint is freeing up. Silent shoulders, for example, usually mean the shoulders are so tight that they are being worn as earrings. And as we work to rediscover the true length of our neck, the shoulders get noisier and noisier. With knees, the opposite can also be true. As we work to balance out the leg muscles and take the knee through its full range of motion, the sound of ripping velcro as we bend ze knees dies away. Knees need to go through their full range of motion, shooting forwards when necessary, and the current fad for keeping the knees behind the toes causes much damage. So enjoy the sound of bonfire night as we creak our way through our first full squat.
Necks are complicated. They get into a fearful muddle as we poke our heads forwards into our lives. Snaps and bangs as the neck frees up are usually good noises. The neck should be able to turn! We should be able to look over our shoulder or empty the shower water out of our ears using just our neck and not the whole body to move the head. A stiff neck needs urgent attention, and we are looking for new sounds of crepitus to show good progress. Bad crepitus on just turning the head could be a sign of osteoarthritis in the neck and it would be wise to pay attention to it and find people to help lengthen the whole spine. Finally, any neck trauma in the past – right from birth, through childhood and including that whiplash incident will not have gone away. As we age, our walk will become a waddling shuffle, our necks and shoulders unbearably painful, all from that time we were knocked unconscious. To age gracefully and with vigour requires dedication to the body, not botox or facelifts.
So crepitus without pain does not matter. It can be a good sign or it may be a warning sign. It is not a sign to not do the movement.