When you walk or sit down, what do you hear? There’s the obvious answer of footsteps and creaking chairs, but if your actual body is making noise, don’t ignore it. For instance, the knee might make a popping or cracking noise, known as knee clicking. It can be alarming at first but know that there are many possible reasons.
Causes Of Knee Clicking
The potential causes of knee clicking range in type and severity.
1. Extra Tissue
Every joint is covered by a thin membrane called a synovial lining. This membrane has inward folds called plicae, which are thin and almost transparent. However, if the knee is overused or gets injured and doesn’t heal properly, plicae can become thick and inflamed. The result is excess tissue, a condition known as synovial plica syndrome. Symptoms like clicking, snapping, popping, swelling, and tenderness are common. Treatment calls for strengthening the knee joint, but only after inflammation is reduced.1
2. Runner’s Knee
Running may be healthy, but it’s possible to go overboard. Excessive training can lead to patellofemoral pain syndrome or runner’s knee. And if you don’t stretch before running or use poor-fitting sneakers? Runner’s knee is also likely. When it develops, the kneecap shifts out of place. Moving it will cause pain, clicking, grinding, or tenderness. Taking a break from running is the best bet, along with stretching and strengthening exercises.2
Arthritis, or inflammation of the joints, is another cause of knee clicking. The condition affects 54.4 million American adults and becomes more common with age. Joints become rough and inflamed, causing a popping noise during activity. The sound is actually called crepitus, although pain is a more frequent symptom. And while there are many types of arthritis, treatment usually involves non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and light exercise.3 4
4. Damaged Meniscus
The meniscus is a tough, rubbery piece of cartilage that acts as a “shock absorber” in your knee. If it tears in an injury, you’ll feel pain, stiffness, swelling, and locking. And if it isn’t treated? A piece of meniscus may separate and move into the joint, causing popping and locking. Athletes are especially prone to this type of injury. Treatment includes NSAIDs, RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), strengthening exercises, and in severe cases, surgery.5
5. ACL Injury
Athletes are also more likely to tear or strain their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This holds the bones together like strong ropes. Injury can cause a single “pop,” but that’s the only time you’ll hear it. The noise caused due to this injury won’t continue over time like in other cases. After the pop, your knee will probably give out. Pain, tenderness, and discomfort will also crop up. You’ll likely need surgery, but for elders or who don’t exercise much, bracing and physical therapy may do.6
Exercises To Strengthen The Knee Joint
Sometimes, knee clicking is simply just gas bubbles popping in the joint’s fluid. This can happen anywhere in the body, from the knuckles to the ankles. There won’t be any pain in this case. Most of these issues can be rectified with certain exercises. Keep your muscles nice and strong by doing 8 to 12 reps of these exercises each day.7
1. Quad Sets
Working the quads, which is attached to the knee, will build muscle and offer support.
- Sit on the floor, extending both legs in front of you.
- Bend your left knee and plant your foot on the floor.
- Place a rolled-up towel underneath your right thigh, near the knee.
- Flex your right foot.
- Lift the heel and calf off the floor. Pause.
- Lower down. This completes 1 rep.
- Repeat equal sets on each side.
2. Hamstring Contractions
Don’t just focus on the quads, the front muscles of the thigh. This will cause an imbalance, so work the hamstrings along the back.
- Lie down on the floor, facing up.
- Bend your knees at a 45-degree angle.
- Lift your toes off the floor while pressing your heels down.
- Hold for 10 seconds. Release.
- This completes 1 rep.
3. IT Band Stretch
The iliotibial band stabilizes the knee, so be sure to stretch it regularly. This is an awesome way to release tension in the area.
- Stand up straight.
- Cross your right leg behind the left.
- Bend the left knee slightly and lean to the left.
- For a deeper stretch, shift your hips to the right.
- Hold for 30 seconds. This completes 1 rep.
- Repeat on the other side.
Do not take these exercises as the end-all solution to the problem but more of a way to prevent future problems. It’s best to visit the doctor as soon as possible if the issue occurs often.
|↑1||Lee, Paul Yuh Feng, Amy Nixion, Amit Chandratreya, and Judith M. Murray. “Synovial Plica Syndrome of the Knee: A Commonly Overlooked Cause of Anterior Knee Pain.” The Surgery Journal 3, no. 01 (2017): e9-e16.|
|↑2||Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner’s Knee). John Hopkins Medicine.|
|↑3||National Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑4||Sinusas, Keith. “Osteoarthritis: diagnosis and treatment.” American family physician 85, no. 1 (2012).|
|↑5||Meniscus Tears. OrthoInfo, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.|
|↑6||Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries. OrthoInfo, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.|
|↑7||What causes the noise when you crack a joint?. The Library of Congress.|