Clicking and cracking shoulders during dumbbells: could this be a problem?
August 9, 2010 2:51 AM   Subscribe

My body (specifically shoulders, collarbone, and breastbone) is making weird noises when I do certain exercises. Why, and should I be worried?

I am a moderately fat vegetarian female in my thirties with several physical problems left over from anorexia in my teens/early 20s and many years of "over" exercising -- usually around six hours per day -- followed by many years of not exercising at all.

Several months ago, I started using 5 lb dumbbells. Mostly I go through routines from Smart Girls Do Dumbbells for fifteen to twenty minutes every evening (and sometimes in the mornings, too). This is not the only exercise I get, but it's the only weight-lifting type exercise I do. I am very careful, and go very slowly, and breathe a lot, etc. Assume I am doing my dumbbell routines (and other exercises) properly and carefully and that I am well-hydrated.

While using these dumbbells, even when just doing basic bicep curls, my shoulders make clicking noises that sound almost like knuckles cracking, but not quite. It also feels like knuckles cracking. The same goes for my collarbone where it "connects" to my shoulders, and down the front of my chest where my ribs "connect" to my breastbone. This does not hurt at all (and, in fact, often feels really good), but it's making me nervous.

I am a "cracky" person -- my back will crack by itself if I take a deep breath, and my neck will crack if I just roll it slowly around in a circle, and my fingers crack when I bend them. My knees click and crack when I bend them to walk, my ankles click and crack when I walk or when I point and flex my feet. I also have extremely loose joints and sometimes spend weeks wearing wrist and ankle braces to prevent bad sprains, twists, and dislocations (although this doesn't always work), and I am very careful with my shoulders and hips, because my bones don't always stay where it feels like they are supposed to be. That said, my shoulders and collarbone, etc., do not always crack when I move around, but they do always crack when I use the dumbbells.

You are not a/my doctor, but: What is going on here? Should I start being worried about this now? I am definitely interested in other people's experiences of these symptoms/issues, and what you've done to self-correct. Vitamins? A certain type of vegetable, protein, or fat? An exercise to strengthen... something?

(NB, I don't currently have health insurance, haven't seen a doctor in four years, and don't plan to see one at any time in the future, barring extreme emergencies, until I have health insurance again. So "get an MRI/physical therapy" or "talk to a doctor" are not helpful responses for me. The clicking and cracking is also not necessarily a function of being fat, since my body also did all of these things when I was extremely thin -- albeit less so, but I was also fifteen years younger -- so please do not tell me to lose weight.)
posted by shamash to Health & Fitness (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm a 30s woman who lifts dumbells too, I found this article interesting recently:
posted by Ness at 2:59 AM on August 9, 2010

Best answer: It sounds like adhesions in/around your muscles. I am a (although not your) massage therapist and I see/hear/feel these all the time in my clients (and I have them too). All of our innards are connected and held in place by connective tissue that is, among other things, a slick lubricant that lets everything move around as needed, stretch and contract when used, etc. Like any lubricant, though, it can get gummy when there's too much friction. Most of us in our day-to-day lives have certain postures and habits that create friction between specific back/neck/shoulder muscles. That results in adhesions, where two muscles adhere to each other instead of sliding smoothly over each other. The reason you hear them crack when you do something that is not your regular routine is because you're using your muscles in a new way and that pulls the adhesion apart. That's a good thing.

The good news too is that when you feel them popping and clicking, that means they're not really stuck yet (it's when they get stuck that they feel like big "knots") and the more you change things up, the better. If the popping and clicking you're hearing is the sound of adhesions, then keep doing what you're doing, and try to be aware of times when your posture or regular activities put a strain on your back/neck muscles. One thing you can do at home is lay down with a tennis ball under your shoulder and see if you can find that sweet spot where it "hurts so good" to have concentrated pressure. You can slip two tennis balls into a sock and work on both shoulders at the same time.
posted by headnsouth at 4:25 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had something similar, from doing these kinds of exercises. It was a small case of bursitis in my shoulder. Felt like I had sand in my ball and socket joint. Went away of its own accord, thankfully.
posted by wowbobwow at 6:10 AM on August 9, 2010

haven't seen a doctor in four years, and don't plan to see one at any time in the future

You said you don't want to hear it, but I'm going to tell you anyway: Go get a physical. This has absolutely nothing to do with your question, but 4 years is a long time, and if you swung from being anorexic to self-described as "fat with several physical problems," you're possibly at risk for a host of other conditions. There are plenty of places to get a physical for under $100 -- preventative medicine is much, much cheaper than a hospital visit.
posted by schmod at 8:52 AM on August 9, 2010

Response by poster: Ness, thanks for the link -- very interesting!

headnsouth, thanks for the info -- and the suggestion about the tennis ball. Ohhh, that feels good!

schmod, I appreciate your concern, but I saw a doctor regularly when I was in my twenties (and only slightly slimmer than I am now, but less active), and was perfectly fine. Additionally, there is simply no way I can shell out the money for a physical when I don't have hundreds of dollars for blood and urine (or any other) tests, nor can I afford to do anything about any diagnosis that might come my way. It sucks, but that's life right now.
posted by shamash at 9:27 AM on August 9, 2010

« Older Best eBay auction timing?   |   Movie quote haunts me Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.