Clicking, cracking, or popping sounds issuing from the knee are actually very common – most people will experience sounds from their knees at some point in their lifetime. Your knees may click when bending or straightening the knee or walking up and downstairs.
The name given to crackling knees is crepitus. In general, crepitus is not a cause for concern. However, if your clicking knees are accompanied by pain or a reduced range of motion in the knee, you may need to seek treatment.
There are a number of potential causes of crepitus.
Gas can build over time in the synovial fluid surrounding the joint. Bending your knee can cause the bubbles to burst, leading to a popping sound. This happens to most people at some stage of their life and is not a cause for concern. The popping sound should not be accompanied by pain. It’s the same effect as cracking your knuckles.
The kneecap slides in the patellofemoral joint and can sometimes make a grating sound due to the uneven surface. Knees vary from person to person – for example, some knee joints are more worn by age or use, or some people’s kneecaps may move more freely. This can cause some individuals to have knees that are more prone to making noise than others.
These tight bands of tissue may flick over each other or over bony parts of the knee, resulting in a clicking sensation. You may hear the clicking noise as they snap back into place after bending your knee.
Injury to your knee can cause crepitus. Injury can be caused by overuse, such as ‘runner’s knee,’ or by an accident or fall. Most knee injuries that result in crepitus will also be accompanied by pain or aching in or around the knee joint.
Osteoarthritis is most common in people over the age of 50 and is usually the result of wear and tear. Osteoarthritis in the knee sees a breakdown of cartilage around the knee joint, leading to pain, inflammation, and crunching or crackling sounds issuing from the knee.
Following surgery such as a knee replacement, you might be more keenly aware of sensations and noises issuing from your knee. You may experience crepitus after a knee replacement, but if it’s not combined with pain, it’s likely harmless.
There are some things you can do to promote healthy knees, to reduce your chance of knee conditions or knee pain. Crepitus isn’t always a sign that something is wrong, but you don’t want to leave it too late if simple lifestyle changes can minimize your risk of knee problems.
- Stay within a healthy weight range. Carrying extra weight puts additional stress on your knee joints.
- Strengthen your legs. A combination of body weight exercises, weighted exercises and exercises with resistance bands can strengthen your knees and legs. If the muscles surrounding your knees are strong, you’re less likely to cause injury to your knees.
- Always warm up. Allow adequate time to warm up before any exercise, to avoid injury and ensure you’re not putting unnecessary stress on your knees and other joints.
- Keep fit. Not only to maintain a healthy weight, but because cardio exercises are beneficial for your overall health and the health of your joints.
- Rest and seek help for an injury. Don’t just ‘push through’ if your knee is inflamed or painful. Rest up and seek medical attention to keep from causing further injury.
On its own, crepitus is not a cause for concern. If your knees click when you stand up, bend your knee or walk upstairs, it’s likely normal and nothing to worry about.
However, if your knees are inflamed, or pain accompanies the clicking, grating, or crackling sounds, you should seek help. Crepitus coupled with pain can be a sign of arthritis or injury, and you should seek treatment before worsening the condition.
If you experience crepitus but no unusual knee pain, there’s no need for treatment. Just make sure you follow the steps to promote healthy knee health.
If you experience knee pain as well as crepitus, your treatment path will be determined by the underlying condition. Some treatments for knee pain include:
- Physical therapy for knee to support the joint, strengthen the surrounding muscles and promote a better range of motion. A physiotherapist will work with you to complete set exercises to help treat and manage your knee pain.
- Gentle exercise such as swimming, walking or tai chi.
- Weight management if you are above a healthy weight.
- Medication, including steroid injections.
- Application of hot or cold packs to reduce inflammation.
- In severe cases, surgery such as knee replacement may be recommended.
Book in with a physiotherapist in Como South Perth who will be able to help determine the underlying cause of your crepitus and knee pain. Your physio will also be able to offer you a rehabilitation treatment plan using physical therapy to manage and treat your condition.