If the popping or cracking sounds of your joints have ever given you cause for worry, you’ll be relieved to know that it is normal for your joints to occasionally “talk to you.” It is common to hear occasional joint sounds when you move in everyday ways, such as bending over to retrieve a dropped item or walking up or down stairs. Dr. William Shiel, chief editor and co-founder of the medical-information website MedicineNet.com, says:1
“The symptom of joint cracking is described differently by different people, while nevertheless representing the same condition. Various descriptions for the same process include ‘popping,’ ‘exploding,’ ‘noise,’ ‘snapping’ and ‘creaking’ of a joint.”
The most common and less serious joint popping that occurs most often is caused by knuckle cracking or a certain manner of bending or twisting the body to relieve pressure.
One cause for the sounds is the reality that your soft tissues, such as ligaments and tendons, frequently contact your bones and other tissues as you move. Pockets of nitrogen gas within your joint fluid, which help with joint lubrication and nutrition, can also be responsible for some of the sounds.
To date there is insufficient evidence linking joint sounds and arthritis. Furthermore, cracking your joints does not cause them to swell up or become arthritic. That said, unless you are experiencing pain and swelling, rest assured that most joint sounds generally are normal, not harmful.
What Are Your Joints Trying to Tell You?
Dr. Aman Dhawan, an orthopedic sports-medicine specialist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, says, “Joint sounds are not really an indicator of health or lack of health.”2
In terms of cracking your joints, there is insufficient evidence to support the belief that it causes cartilage to wear down or that it will permanently loosen the joints. “It may be irritating to the listener, but that’s a separate issue,” Dhawan notes. “There is really no evidence that it causes any damage.”3As you may imagine, noisy joints can be of concern if the sounds are unusual or they are accompanied by acute pain and swelling. Some of the more serious joint conditions that may be indicated by a single episode of joint popping include a:4
broken bone, also known as a bone fracture
cartilage tear from a torn meniscus
ligament strain or tear
tendon strain or tear, also known as a tendon rupture
If you suspect you may be dealing with any of the above conditions, it’s time to see your doctor. Consistent pain or swelling, and even heat, may be a sign that something is seriously wrong. “As long as it’s not painful, joint noise is OK,” says Dr. Kim Stearns, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. “If there’s pain, you may have an injury, then, that requires treatment.”5Fitness website GMB provides an excellent summary of what you need to remember when it comes to popping joints:6
Most joint noises that arise from normal movement are fine, but joint noises that accompany pain are a cause for concern
Never force your joints to “pop,” because even though it is unlikely to cause arthritis, twisting your neck and back forcefully, for example, is unwise and not recommended
You may find that starting an exercise or training program will improve or worsen your joint sounds; pay attention to how your joints feel and make any necessary changes to your program as you go along
Exercise: a Healthy Way to Make Your Joints Feel Great
If you regularly crack your joints as a means of gaining relief from stiffness or temporary pain and discomfort, you might consider exercise instead. Exercise can not only significantly improve your joint function, but also lessen any joint pain you may be experiencing.
Be advised that there is no evidence to support the belief that exercise is detrimental to your joints. The myth that you can “wear down” your knees, for example, is just that, a myth. Your body is designed to tolerate average levels of exercise and your normal activities of daily living.
Even if you maintain a healthy weight, exercise can have a positive impact on your joints. While low-impact cardio exercise such as bicycling, swimming or using an elliptical machine can boost joint health, taking a walk around the block is also beneficial, especially if you are just starting or getting back to exercise.
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise is especially crucial if you have arthritis. Exercise not only increases flexibility and strength, but also reduces joint pain and fatigue. Even moderate exercise can soothe weary joints and give you a sense of control over your arthritis pain and discomfort. Some of the benefits you’ll receive from exercise include:7
✓ Strengthening the muscles around your joints
✓ Helping you control your weight
✓ Maintaining bone strength
✓ Enhancing your quality of life
✓ Having more energy to get through the day
✓ Improving your balance
✓ Making it easier to get a good night’s sleep
Though you may think exercise will aggravate your joint pain and stiffness, that’s typically not the case. In fact, the opposite is true: Lack of exercise can make your joints even more painful and stiff. That’s because keeping your muscles and surrounding tissue strong is crucial to maintaining support for your bones. The absence of exercise weakens those supporting muscles, creating more stress on your joints.
A good way to avoid creaking joints is to get up and move as much as possible during the day, says Stearns:8“We say motion is lotion — the more you move, the more your body lubricates itself. When you’ve been sitting or lying around, fluid in the joints doesn’t move. The more active you are, the more your joints lubricate themselves.”
Setting a goal of taking 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day, which is just over 3 to 5 miles, or 6 to 9 kilometers, keeps your focus on getting more movement in your life. If possible, you should add this over and above your existing fitness regimen. If it’s too overwhelming to think of doing anything more than walking, start there. You can always add more activity later.
In addition to easing joint pain, exercise can help improve your mood, increase your energy levels and promote flexibility. In time, you will notice positive changes that might cause you to wonder why you didn’t take up exercise sooner.
Are There Special Considerations for Exercising With Joint Pain?
If you have joint pain, there are a few factors to consider with respect to exercise. Particularly if your pain worsens with movement, you want to take care to not strain a significantly unstable joint. Pain during movement is one of the most common and debilitating symptoms of osteoarthritis.
If you’ve already developed knee osteoarthritis, you’ll most certainly want to incorporate exercises that strengthen the quadriceps muscle at the front of your thigh. Instead of running or other high-impact exercise, you will more likely enjoy and benefit from non-weight-bearing exercises such as bicycling or swimming.
Should you experience pain for more than one hour after exercising, you either need to slow down or choose a different form of exercise. As needed, you may want to work with a physical therapist or qualified personal trainer who can help develop a safe set of activities for you. Whatever you choose, be sure your program includes a range of activities. I recommend core training, high-intensity cardio, stretching and weight training. My favorite exercise is peak fitness, and this program can be safely used by nearly everyone.
What Role Do Diet and Weight Loss Play in Your Joint Health?
Because diet accounts for about 80 percent of the health benefits you reap from a healthy lifestyle, it makes sense to look to your diet with respect to joint health. I’ve said it many times before — the best diet is one that involves eating REAL FOOD.
I recommend replacing processed foods with whole, organic foods as much as you can. It is especially important to avoid processed vegetable oils and sugars. Personally, I believe the oils are far more toxic, especially the types used to prepare convenience and fast foods.
You simply must have a regular source of high-quality, unprocessed fats if you hope to be healthy. Along those lines, you should carefully monitor your omega-6 to omega-3 balance, making sure you intake enough healthy fish or a fish oil supplement for your omega-3s.
Notably, researchers found that 300 mg of krill oil per day significantly reduced inflammation, pain, stiffness and functional impairment after just seven days, and even more profoundly after 14 days.9 To help you get started, I suggest following my complimentary Optimized Nutrition Plan, which guides you step-by-step from the beginner stage to the advanced level.
If you are overweight, consider pairing exercise with a healthy diet to bring some relief to your joints. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),10 arthritis rates are nearly double for obese people compared to those who are normal weight. This is mainly due to the increased pressure extra weight puts on your joints.
Notably, a JAMA study11 revealed that overweight and obese adults with knee osteoarthritis who followed an intensive diet and exercise program experienced less pain and better function than those who pursued just diet or exercise alone. Dhawan agrees that any loss of weight will translate into tremendous improvements in your joint pain and function:12
“There is good data to support getting rid of excess weight because it does improve pain in the joints of the lower extremities, as well as decreases your risk of getting arthritis, or of having it progress. The joints carry the weight of our bodies, so the less stress you put on them, the longer they will stay healthy.”
Remember, even the smallest of positive changes you make in your eating habits will eventually yield results, if you stick with it. Set small goals and keep at it. Soon you will be on your way to the healthier, more active lifestyle that you want and need.
Cracking Your Knuckles Is Not Likely to Lead to Arthritis
As you may know, your joints, including those in your knuckles, are surrounded by a membrane called the synovial membrane. It forms a capsule around the ends of your bones and contains synovial fluid. Synovial fluid acts as a lubricant and shock absorber so your bones don’t grind together when you move.
If you have osteoarthritis, the cartilage within your joints is progressively being damaged, and the synovial fluid is typically reduced as well. The pain and joint stiffness that you feel is a result of your bones starting to come in to contact with each other as cartilage and synovial fluid diminishes. It’s often thought that cracking your joints would be dangerous for people with osteoarthritis, or perhaps could even lead to degenerative conditions.
If you continually crack your knuckles, the synovial membrane and the surrounding ligaments willloosen, making it easier and easier for your joints to crack. However, to date, research has not shown a correlation between knuckle cracking and osteoarthritis in your hands. In a study of more than 200 people, the prevalence of osteoarthritis in any joint was similar among those who cracked knuckles and those who did not.13 The authors stated:
“… [I]n these cohorts of persons aged 50 to 89 years, a history of habitual KC [knuckle cracking] — including the total duration and total cumulative exposure to KC — does not seem to be a risk factor for hand OA [osteoarthritis].”
According to Stearns, despite what your mom said, you’re not going to make your knuckles too big or develop arthritis by cracking them.14“The belief that cracking your knuckles is bad for your joints is an old wives’ tale. My mother used to tell me don’t crack your knuckles, but sorry, Mom, there’s no science to say it’s bad for your joints.”
In many cases, cracking your knuckles becomes a habit that can be difficult to break. One study even suggested that the movement offers a sort of “therapeutic release.” Some chronic knuckle crackers may regard the habit as a form of stress relief. Personally, however, I don’t think it’s wise to crack your joints on a regular basis, mainly because self-manipulation may lead to lax ligaments. Moreover, I believe you should treat your body gently and lovingly.
For those reasons, as well as the reality that it can be annoying to others, I recommend you choose a form of stress relief other than knuckle cracking. So, the next time you hear that familiar knee pop when you stand up, or gentle neck crack when you turn your head to one side, remember that most joint sounds are normal and not a cause for concern. Exercising regularly, as well as maintaining a healthy diet and weight, will go a long way toward giving your joints all the care and support they need.
30 Tips in 30 Days Designed to Help You Take Control of Your
This article is part of the 30 Day Resolution Guide series. Each day a new tip will be added designed to help you take control of your health. For a complete list of the tips click HERE
By Dr. Mercola
Did you know the energy from the Earth can help you live a healthier life? The concept is known as earthing or grounding, which is no more complicated than walking barefoot.
In “Down to Earth”1 — which received the IndieFEST Award of Excellence for a documentary short in January 20172 — I speak alongside other experts to shed light on this super simple yet commonly overlooked way to protect and improve human health. As cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra, author of “Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?” explains in the film:
“[G]rounding is literally putting your bare feet on the ground. When you do that, you’re in contact with the Earth, and mother Earth is endowed with electrons, and these electrons are literally absorbed through your feet. It’s like taking handfuls of antioxidants, but you’re getting it through your feet.”
Your Body Needs Grounding
Research suggests a general lack of grounding, also referred to as “electron deficiency syndrome,” has a lot to do with the rise of modern diseases. For a visual demonstration of this concept, see this previous article, which features an experiment conducted by Gary Schwartz, Ph.D., at the University of Arizona. Using sunflowers, he demonstrates the biological effects of grounding and what happens when the flowers are not grounded.
It’s not unusual for Americans to spend entire days without being grounded. But though it has become the norm, it’s completely unnatural, and didn’t really become widespread until the advent of shoes with artificial soles that prevent grounding. When you’re grounded, free electrons from the Earth are transferred into your body, and these free electrons are among the most potent antioxidants known to man.
As electrons are negatively charged and free radicals are positively charged, any free radicals encountered in your tissues are electrically neutralized or canceled out by these free electrons. This is why grounding is so effective against chronic inflammation. Dr. Laura Koniver, who discovered grounding quite by accident after it seemed to soothe her crying infant, says in the film, “Grounding … supports the body as a whole but it specifically supports organ systems down to the tissues and the cellular function of the entire body.”
Also, while you may not think of your body as a generator of electricity, you are very much an electrical being, and this is in large part why it’s so important to use grounding to harness the electrical charge of the Earth. In the film, Gaetan Chevalier, Ph.D., an engineer/physicist who has studied grounding, explains:
“Unbeknownst to us, we live inside a battery. The surface of the Earth is charged negatively and the ionosphere, a layer of the atmosphere about 60 miles up, is ionized by the sun. The rays of the sun are so strong that they split the molecules in two, a positive charge and a negative charge.
The negative charges are transferred to the surface of the Earth, through lightening mainly, and the positive charges stay 60 miles up. The problem arises when we don’t have a negative charge. We need grounding just as we need air and we need sunshine.”
Grounding Reduces Electric Field Induction
There’s even evidence that grounding reduces the voltage induced on your body from electricity in your environment — a factor that has become increasingly important in the modern world. As noted in the 2012 review:3
“Applewhite, an electrical engineer and expert in the design of electrostatic discharge systems in the electronic industry, was both subject and author of the study.4 Measurements were taken while ungrounded and then grounded using a conductive patch and conductive bed pad … Each method (patch and sheet) immediately reduced the common alternating current (AC) 60 Hz ambient voltage induced on the body by a highly significant factor of about 70 on average.
The study showed that when the body is grounded, its electrical potential becomes equalized with the Earth’s electrical potential … This, in turn, prevents the 60 Hz mode from producing an AC electric potential at the surface of the body and from producing perturbations of the electric charges of the molecules inside the body.
The study confirms the ‘umbrella’ effect of earthing the body explained by Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman in his lectures on electromagnetism. Feynman said that when the body potential is the same as the Earth’s electric potential (and thus grounded), it becomes an extension of the Earth’s gigantic electric system. The Earth’s potential thus becomes the ‘working agent that cancels, reduces, or pushes away electric fields from the body.'”
Benefits of Grounding
While it may sound “too easy,” the simple pleasure of walking barefoot can be a powerful health-promoting activity. A scientific review published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health in 2012 found that grounding can help:5
Improve quality of sleep and feelings of restfulness upon waking.
Normalize secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, so that it adheres to a typical cycle of peaking in the morning and dipping lowest at midnight. This in turn helps promote more restful sleep and improve blood sugar regulation and weight control.
Reduce stress and balance your autonomic nervous system by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (which rules the “rest and digest” functions of the body) and quieting the sympathetic nervous system (which cues the “fight or flight” response).
Reduce the severity of the inflammatory response after intense workouts.
Raise your heart rate variability (your heart’s ability to respond to stimuli).
Speed up wound healing.
Improve mood. In one study,7 grounding for one hour significantly improved mood among adults.
Reduce inflammation.8 In the film, grounding pioneer Clint Ober explains how grounding quenches inflammation: “Inflammation is produced by neutrophils, which are white blood cells. [When] you have an injury … a damaged cell … these white blood cells come over and encapsulate the damaged cell and … release reactive oxygen species, which rip electrons from the damaged cell and that destroys the damaged cell.
If there’s not enough free electrons there to reduce the remaining radicals, they’re going to steal an electron from a healthy cell and in the process damage it. Then the message goes out to the immune system and another neutrophil does the same thing and eliminates that cell, and then you have a chain reaction.”
Thin your blood, making it less viscous, by strengthening the negative electrical surface charge on your red blood cells. This improves their ability to repel each other and allows them to flow more easily through tiny capillaries, and is incredibly valuable as cardiovascular disease is correlated with thicker, slow-moving blood. It can also help protect against blood clots.
In fact, this blood-thinning effect is so profound that if you are taking a blood thinner such as Coumadin, you should consult your doctor before you start grounding regularly. You may need to lower your dosage to avoid overdosing on your medication.
Research9 published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine revealed that two hours of grounding increased the surface charge of red blood cells, thereby reducing blood viscosity and clumping. According to the authors, “Grounding appears to be one of the simplest and yet most profound interventions for helping reduce cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular events.”
Increase the structure of the water in your cells. Water is in every cell in your body, and this water is highly ordered (structured) and charged. If you don’t have properly structured water in your cells, it can impact the functioning of the much larger protein molecules (and others) that interface with the cell. The water inside the cell also interfaces with water outside the cell, which has the opposite charge, creating a battery effect.
Your body’s ability to generate electricity is actually a key part of your achieving health. Electrical charges delivered from cell to cell allows for nearly instantaneous communication within your body, and the messages conducted via these electrical signals are responsible for controlling the rhythm of your heartbeat, the movement of blood around your body and much more.
In fact, most of your biological processes are electrical. The water in your cells achieves its ordered structure from energy obtained from the environment, typically in the form of electromagnetic radiation, including sunlight and infrared heat.
But grounding may also play an important role. Just as water increases in structure when a negative charge is introduced by an electrode, the negatively charged electrons you receive when grounded help increase the structure of the water in your cells. By restructuring the water, you promote more efficient tissue healing. So, when you ground, you are charging every single cell in your body with energy your body can use for self-healing.
How and Where to Ground
While connecting just about any part of your skin to the Earth is beneficial, one area that is particularly potent is the center of the ball of your foot; a point known to acupuncturists as Kidney 1 (K1). It’s a well-known acupuncture point that conductively connects to all of the acupuncture meridians in your body. Exercising barefoot outdoors is a great way to incorporate earthing into your daily life and will also help speed up tissue repair and ease muscle pain associated with strenuous exercise.
The ideal location for walking barefoot is the beach, close to or in the water, as saltwater is a great conductor. (Your body is also somewhat conductive because it contains a large number of charged ions, called electrolytes, dissolved in water. Your blood and other body fluids are therefore good conductors.)
A close second would be a grassy area, especially if it’s covered with dew, and /or bare soil. Ceramic tiles and concrete are good conductors as long as they’ve not been sealed; painted concrete does not allow electrons to pass through very well. Materials like asphalt, wood and typical insulators like rubber or plastic will not allow electrons to pass through and are not suitable for barefoot grounding.
While any amount of grounding is better than none, research has demonstrated it takes about 80 minutes for the free electrons from the Earth to reach your blood stream and transform your blood, which is when you reap the greatest benefits. So, ideally, aim for 80 to 120 minutes of grounding each day.
How to Ground Indoors
Just as walking barefoot was once widespread, so too was sleeping on the ground. In the modern world, sleeping indoors serves to further insulate you from the Earth. There’s also the issue of elevation. When you are grounded, your body cannot carry a charge, which is good. The greater the distance between your body and the Earth, the greater charge your body carries. In fact, this has been precisely calculated. For every meter (3.28 feet) you are above the ground, 300 volts of charge will build up in your body.10
So, if you are in a second story bedroom, your charge would be 1,000 volts, on average, and this increased charge may increase your risk of health problems. For example, one 2009 study11 found a 40 percent increase in stroke risk among people living in multistory homes. Flying can also make you severely ungrounded.
When indoors, and/or at elevation, you can ground by:
Using a grounding pad or grounding sheet to ground your mattress while sleeping.
Keeping your bare feet on a grounding mat while working. Grounding mats work well provided you have a grounded electrical outlet and can be particularly beneficial if you live in a high-rise. A grounded outlet is generally identifiable by the fact it’s a 3-prong outlet with a ground port (bottom outlet). Most modern homes built after 1970 will have a grounded electrical system. When using an earthing mat, make sure your bare skin is in contact with it. There should not be a layer of clothing between you and the mat.
Using a grounded yoga mat when exercising indoors. Research12 has shown doing yoga indoors on a grounded yoga mat helps reduce blood viscosity and exercise-induced inflammation, the same effects you’d expect from walking barefoot outdoors.
Touching the faucet with one hand while shaving or brushing your teeth with the other.
Taking off your shoes and placing your feet (bare or with socks) on the steel struts of the chair in front of you when flying in an airplane.
Grounding May Be Essential for Life and Health
It’s important to understand that grounding is not a “treatment” or “cure” for any disease or disorder. Rather, it is one of the key mechanisms by which your body maintains equilibrium and health. The human body evolved in constant contact with the Earth, and your body needs this continuous interchange of energy to function properly.
Free radical stress from exposure to pollution, cigarettes, pesticides, processed foods and electromagnetic radiation, just to name a few, continually deplete your body of electrons. The Earth, however is always electron-rich and can serve as a powerful and abundant supply of antioxidant free radical-busting electrons, provided you make an effort to stay grounded.
Without a proper supply of antioxidants, the free radicals can overwhelm your system leading to oxidative stress, inflammation and accelerated aging. “We now know that oxidative stress causes disease. It causes inflammation,” Sinatra says. “[But] we have this Earth — Mother Earth — that’s going to give us all these free electrons.”
Again, exercising barefoot outdoors is a wonderful way to incorporate grounding into your daily routine. Alternatively, simply take off your shoes as much as you can when you’re outdoors to take advantage of the Earth’s natural healing potential.