My joints crack when I exercise
April 23, 2005 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I've been sedentary all my life and have, just this month, started to get serious about exercise. The problem is not that I'm weak, which I of course still am, but that my joints--especially my right shoulder--crack a lot on pushups.

I've been at it for three weeks. I figured the best thing was to start slow, so as not to discourage myself. Right now that means pushups and situps and not much else, taking a day off when I need it, but steadily increasing the reps and sets. I'm happy with it for the most part, but I wish my joints weren't so, er, noisy and stiff. It doesn't seem like a good thing to me to have them cracking so often (or, well, cracking at all).

Most sites I've found addressing the topic suggest exercise as a way of stopping joints cracking. Exercise, in this case, seems to be causing the joints to crack.

I've found that doing the pushups very slowly can prevent the shoulder cracking, but then I can't do very many at all. Should I continue doing them very slowly and just do fewer? Or should I be able to do them at "normal" speed without the sound effects?

What am I doing wrong?
posted by Tuwa to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Do you do any sort of stretching? Especially dynamic stretching. Try sticking your arms out to each side, do ten big circles towards your front, then ten little circles, then switch direction and do it the other way. This will help you limber up. Warming up in general—10 minutes of low cardio—is a good idea.

Even the average male is fairly heavy. If you want to put less pressure on your shoulder I'd try using a machine or free weights instead, since you'll be able to control the weight that way.
posted by grouse at 1:31 PM on April 23, 2005

Yeah, any excercise that you have to lift you own weight, is awesome for building muscle, can be quite daunting when you are first starting to workout. Get thee to a gym if possible, if not do what grouse says, or even try lifting some heavy books from down by your sides to perpendicular in the front, back down, then perpendicular to the sides.
posted by corpse at 1:51 PM on April 23, 2005

also, try just holding yourself up at the top of a pushup, start with 15 seconds and work your way up in 20 second increments. Keep your butt down too, for maximum effort.
posted by corpse at 1:58 PM on April 23, 2005

Try to warm yourself up first with stretches and some treadmill time. It might prove easier on your joints if you lost some weight aerobically first. You might also want to try some pilates exercises first to build strength in your midsection. Try a beginners tape, and take it slow.
posted by maryh at 2:15 PM on April 23, 2005

There are some previous threads about joint cracking in general - the two main conclusions seem to be that (a) no one is quite sure why joints crack (or, I would imagine, how to keep them from cracking), and (b) there is most likely no harm in it, as long as there is no accompanying pain.
posted by advil at 2:23 PM on April 23, 2005

i've heard that it's better to do weigh-lifting / pushups slow anyways...better workout that way. especially going down slow, and then trying to go up a bit quicker. count slowly to four as you lower yourself. it's tough! so don't feel like you're getting less of a workout by doing them's actually BETTER! i'd also recommend getting a good warm up and adding some cardio to the routine. keep at it and good luck.
posted by jacobsee at 3:22 PM on April 23, 2005

For your shoulders, besides the lighter weight recommended above, try messing around with your pushup stance -- make your hand placement wider or narrower, more towards your torso or more towards your head. I'll bet you can find a position in which your shoulder doesn't do that popping thing. My right shoulder crunches on even my very light bench presses if I don't have it in exactly the right spot. Be careful, and don't work through the wrong kind of pain -- shoulder injuries are very common.

Not everyone agrees that stretching before lifting is good for you. Warming up beforehand is pretty universally recommended, though. The best description I've read is that you should do cardio of some sort "until your shoulders are warm." That's about six minutes on the elliptical trainer for me.

Keep it up!
posted by climalene at 4:03 PM on April 23, 2005

Always warm up before stretching.

Stretching cold muscles is like stretching cold rubber bands: they tear and break.

Do some light cardio to warm everything up, get it all lubricated with fresh blood, then stretch. Then go through your routine. I highly highly highly recommend you make at least one appointment with a personal trainer. Tell them your goals, where you're at, etc. They will help you set up a routine and check your form. If you have never worked out before, your form is bad, guaranteed. This means you are putting yourself at increased risk for injury and you're not getting the maximum benefit out of the excercises you're doing.

Good luck and stick with it, results do happen, but it takes time.
posted by kavasa at 4:09 PM on April 23, 2005

Go very, very slowly and your joints won't crack. This has the additional benefit of wearing you out faster, thus it's better exercise. I'm guessing that the cracking occurs once you approach full extension, so be careful and slow when you approach this point in the movement.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:16 PM on April 23, 2005

Response by poster: Warmup and stretching. Righto. School has been a long time ago; I'd completely forgotten. Thanks for the suggestions, everyone.
posted by Tuwa at 9:47 PM on April 23, 2005

C-D - the "slow means no cracking" thing isn't quite true. I can do glacially slow hindu squats and every other or every third time down, my knees pop like gigantic rice krispies.
posted by kavasa at 3:53 AM on April 24, 2005

I've had a quiet but clearly audible crack in my left ankle every other step since age 7. Many other joints join the chorus at odd intervals, during both slight and strenuous activity. No harm done so far.
posted by putzface_dickman at 4:26 AM on April 24, 2005

The only thing that stopped cracking completely for me was Tai Chi. Really. When I was really doing it a lot, I didn't crack once for five months on end.

I really believe this has something to do with tightness of joints.
posted by koeselitz at 8:44 AM on April 24, 2005

My shoulders used to pop when I first started yoga, but they stopped as my flexibility improved. It was never a problem. Try an ashtanga/power yoga class; the sun salutations build shoulder/upper back strength and flexibility together.
posted by homunculus at 9:58 AM on April 24, 2005

My chiropractor told me that the popping sounds that come when he manipulates my back are fluid in the joints being converted to a gaseous state upon release which are then reabsorbed. It sounded like bs, but my back and neck feel better so who cares.
posted by craniac at 12:56 PM on April 24, 2005

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