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Snap, Crackle, Pop – the Sounds of an Aging Body

July 29, 2012

How Your Body ConnectsThe adult human body has 206 bones, 850 muscles, 900 ligaments, and 4000 tendons (give or take). Your bones (skeleton) support and shape your body and protect your internal organs; they also form the framework that everything else is attached to. Bones are held together at the joints by ligaments – flexible connective tissue that is extremely elastic and stretches (as necessary) to allow the joints to move.  Tendons are also made of connective tissue, but they have a higher tensile strength because they connect your bones to your muscles – those bands of fibrous tissue that can contract to allow you to move (or simply stay upright). The fact that all these elements ‘bind together’ in perfect synchronicity before you are even born is one of nature’s many miracles.

Most of us don’t give much thought to the internal structure of our bodies; we tend to focus more on the outside (the bits we can see).  It isn’t until something goes wrong that we turn our attention to the more than 5,000 ‘hard parts’ that keep us moving – or stop us from doing so.

Musculoskeletal SystemOne of the more obvious signs of aging that I’ve noticed over the past fifteen or so years is the noises my body makes when I get out of bed in the morning and/or stand up after a lengthy period of inactivity. My ankles snap, my spine crackles, my knees pop – and that’s just for starters!  Things seem to creak and groan and occasionally ache and twinge and throb for no apparent reason (except to remind me that I’m getting on in years and they’re slowing wearing down).  I often think I could create my own little symphony of weird and wonderful joint sounds if I wired myself up and walked around for several minutes (maybe I could post it on YouTube and become an overnight sensation!)

In addition to the noises my musculoskeletal system produces, more than a few bits and pieces have actually rebelled and stopped working in the past ten or so years (fortunately, only temporarily).  I’ve had: frozen shoulder (my left – dominant – one that I used for carrying purses, books, briefcases, and children for forty-plus years; I’m also left-handed, which meant anything I wrote on the board for about six months [I was still teaching at College back then] looked like it was written by a five year old); severe back trauma (if you think giving birth is the worst pain you’ve ever experienced, you haven’t had acute back pain, let me tell you); a badly twisted ankle (as a result of spending too much time marking exams; I was sitting with my legs up and my ankles crossed and didn’t realize my leg had fallen asleep until I stood up and found myself flat on my a** on the floor with my ankle twisted under me); Broken Wrist Xraya broken wrist (from falling off the back of the motorcycle in the very uneven parking lot of a restaurant on the first day of a three day vacation; we eventually made it to our hotel [in the next town], where I wrapped it tightly and applied ice; my husband got up at the crack of dawn the next morning to drive the bike back and return with the truck so I could travel home ‘in comfort’ the following day; fortunately, it was a hairline fracture so I didn’t need a cast, but I did have to wear a brace and a sling for six weeks); and a ‘bum’ knee (caused by fluid build-up that apparently had no specific cause) that had me on crutches for three days and unable to drive for a week (I drive a standard – couldn’t use the clutch).  Interestingly enough, all of these ‘problems’ have occurred on my left side.

Fortunately, I found a wonderful physiotherapist who has treated each of these complaints and helped me get back in ‘working order’ time and time again.  As part of my (ever hopeful) preventative maintenance program, I also began seeing a chiropractor about five years ago as well; she keeps my spine aligned and my lower back in sync (although she did express some concern when she first looked at my x-rays. Me - Upside Down (1959)“Were you ever dropped on your head as a child?” she asked – pointing to a film that clearly showed numerous compressed vertebrae in my neck. “Not that I recall,” I told her – although I did confess to having spent a significant amount of time hanging upside down [from the monkey bars at school, the frame of a backyard swing at home, or the trapeze in the basement] when I was young – so there was every possibility that I’d fallen on my head more than once and just didn’t remember).  I’ve also learned the importance of stretching regularly (particularly before doing any kind of yard work), and I do some basic strength training every day to try to keep things moving as freely and painlessly as possible.

Heel PainStill, there always seems to be something creaking or cracking or misfiring. Just yesterday I walked into the bedroom closet to hang up some clothes when a sudden, horrible pain shot up the back of my heel and ankle (on the RIGHT side this time!) I hobbled back to the bed and waited five or so minutes to see if it would ease up, but as soon as I put any weight on the foot, the pain returned. Frustrated – and completely baffled as to what had caused it (since I hadn’t done anything obvious to cause it) – I sat back in bed, put my foot up on a pillow and waited while my husband brought me an ice pack, a cup of tea, and two magazines.  I ended up killing the whole day lying around (after two hours, I did manage to walk – flat footed and s…l…o…w…l…y  – out onto the deck so I could at least read outside on my chaise) and by this morning the pain was gone (although I’m taking it easy, just in case). What is most exasperating, though, is that I have no idea what caused it, or if it will return (or when!)  It’s just the sort of weird medical conundrum that makes me crazy – but that I’m learning to come to expect now that I’m on … the other side of 55.

Jimmy Buffet says (sings) it best (“Growing Older But Not Up”)

  1. August 28, 2012 1:51 pm

    Some while back I thought I was hearing voices outside the house in the middle of the night, like people having a conversation. Now that’s very unlikely as we live in a very rural area. So I thought my brain was playing tricks on me as it did for quite some while after my husband and I moved from an urban environment to here (when I found it difficult getting used to the quiet). Then one night I realised what the sound was – it was the creaking of my neck as I moved my head side to side on the pillow trying to get comfortable!

    So many aches and so many odd sounds in many parts of the body one doesn’t even think of when younger!

    • September 2, 2012 7:46 pm

      Ha ha ha. That is so funny. My neck cracks constantly – I always thought I was the only one who could hear it, so I was surprised when my husband told me it grossed him out and to stop it! If only we knew then what we know now ..


  2. July 29, 2012 8:06 pm

    As you say it isn’t until something goes wrong that you realize you have been compensating for years. I was persuaded to try a chiropractor because: (a) my son’s girlfriend worked there, and (b) I’d suffered from tinitus for over 5 years and there was the faint hope it might ‘cure’ it – so I went (I should explain that for decades I cradled a phone into my neck and this had immobilised my neck quite dramactically. After a few visits I was surprised at how far I could turn my head! That old adage: ‘use it or lose it’ is so true. Now I stretch and move much more often. Clicks and pops are still heard but at least I have no pain. Keep loose girl!

    • July 29, 2012 10:49 pm

      My father frequented a chiropractor for years but I resisted until my neck and shoulders were so tight (causing massive headaches) that I could barely see think some days. Boy – I wish I’d gone sooner. And regular stretching and moving about is essential (I now set a timer when I’m at the computer so I don’t sit ‘still’ for more than 45 minutes at a time). Such a small thing – amazing it makes so much difference.


  3. July 29, 2012 4:31 pm

    I know what you mean! Once you reach that magic age, everything starts falling apart, sometimes for no apparent reason.

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