PT Keeps Joints Moving

by Brace Hayden

You have probably experienced the grinding noise your neck makes when you are looking over your shoulder as you back your car out of the driveway and rotate your neck. Or you have stepped down from
your front porch to get the morning newspaper and your knees creak as you bend.

Should the creaks and grinds of your joints be cause for alarm, or are these just the normal noises of the human machine? As a physical therapist, I tend to hear a lot about peoples’ various joint noises and educate them on what is going on and what to do about it.

Joint noise and joint stiffness often accumulate over the years like birthday candles on your cake. If we live long enough, we can and should expect to hear and feel a little more from our bodies. These snaps, crackles and pops should not be dismissed as “just the typical sounds of the aging cereal machine,” but reminders that our joints need additional movement and stretches to ease the stiffening process.

Our joints naturally age and wear, some faster and more sensitively than others. The weight-bearing
joints in the legs, like the knees, hips and feet, as well as the hands and spinal joints can tend to get our attention earlier in life. As we age, the regeneration of the joints’ dense cartilage coating at the ends of our bones tends to slow and wear, thus making more joint noise with daily movements.

Our joints will also gain additional node-like material around the joint with age that also can increase the clicking and popping noises as our tendons roll over them.

So what should one do about stiff, noisy or achy joints? When is it time to see a medical professional
to address a problematic joint?

Clear warning signs of an inflamed or injured joint include: a significant trauma to the joint, a joint that is very tender to touch, increased joint warmth or redness, or if the joint swelling is sudden and
accompanied by a fever and physical illness.

In the physical therapy profession, we recommend getting a joint issue evaluated when it is painful with movement for more than two weeks or when it begins to limit or change your mobility.

Differentiating the various types of joint irritation or ‘arthritises’ is outside the scope of this article, but taking action on a joint or joints that are limiting your movement is recommended.

Along with seeking solid, evidence-based advice on good nutrition and possible medications for joint
support and inflammation reduction, daily exercise is one of the best choices you can make for your health.

Establishing a balanced exercise routine comprised of strength training, aerobic or cardiovascular endurance exercise and stretches to move joints through their range of motion can optimize your joint
comfort and mobility.

Progressive resistance exercises three to four days per week to improve or maintain your muscle strength are important to support and protect your joints. Aerobic training should be performed five
to seven days per week for 30–60 minutes in the form of a low-impact, sustained, moderate-intensity
exercise. Some of the best aerobic exercises for helping stiffening joints include pool-based exercises, bike riding or walking with trekking poles.

Lastly, a daily mobility exercise and stretch routine can help keep the lotion in your motion by
lubricating stiff joints and optimizing your flexibility.

Yoga classes, dancing and a stretching routine are all options to work on improving your joint mobility. Specific questions on which exercises are best for stiff or creaky joints can best be answered by your local physical therapist.

Brace Hayden, DPT, OCS, CSCS is a physical therapist who specializes in improving functional mobility, balance and vestibular therapy at Alpine Physical Therapy in Missoula.

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