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Why Do Our Knees Pop and Crackle?

Publish Date
March 7, 2022

Knee noise in the form of a crack, click, or pop is more common than you may think. Causes include simple soft tissue catching or severe damage to the joint’s bearing surface, the articular cartilage.


No Worries: Painless Clicks and Pops


The rice crispy noises coming from your knee(s) are common, called crepitus. Sometimes, the noise is due to tiny air bubbles inside the joint fluid, which build up with changes in joint pressure. The bubbles make a noise when they burst, called cavitation. Another cause is when the ligaments and tendons catch as they go over a bony lump within the knee, or scar tissue, and pop when they snap back into place.


Some Concerns: Persistent Popping with Swelling, Pain, Catching, or Grinding


When the knee popping sounds also have swelling and pain, or produce a catching sensation, or the knee gives way, you may need to worry about a possible injury within the knee. The noise and pain may be a mechanical symptom, which feels like something is caught in the knee as it moves back and forth. This kind of popping is often a sign that you have a meniscus tear or a small piece of loose cartilage caught in the knee.


Osteoarthritis can also cause painful knee popping where the smooth cartilage has worn down, and the bones cause friction when they rub against one another. Another common problem that results in a popping or grinding sensation is roughness on the undersurface of the patella. This roughness is called patellofemoral pain syndrome, or “runner’s knee.”

Real Worry: Loud Pop at Time of Injury Followed by Swelling, Instability, and Giving Way


“Doc, I heard a pop, and my knee swelled.”


∙ You have likely injured either your ligaments:

∙ Anterior Cruciate Ligament

∙ Posterior Cruciate Ligament

∙ Medial Collateral Ligament

∙ Meniscus or Articular Cartilage


Tips on How to Protect Your Knees and Get Rid of Knee Cracking:


∙ Regular exercise and training – You need to strengthen your legs muscles and at the same time not forget about your knee muscles. Weight training, resistance training, or body weight exercises (such as squats and lunges) should be included in your fitness plan at least twice a week.

∙ Warm up before training – Please do not skip the warm-up, as it will help avoid injuries or overloads. A hard workout can quickly cause muscle and joint injuries.

∙ Stretching – Before and after exercise, you must carefully stretch the muscles and joints. Stretch your front and back thigh muscles regularly – first the quadriceps and then the back of the thigh.

∙ Choose shoes carefully – Wear comfortable shoes that are not tight, especially if you spend a lot of time at work.

∙ Maintain a healthy weight – This means that you should not have excess weight. Obesity is an established risk factor for developing arthritis of the knee joint.


Coming to Comprehensive Physical Therapy will allow you to learn more about why your knees make the snap, crackle, and pop sounds. So, come on by and have a great experience with some incredible physical therapists who can teach you and challenge you with new knowledge.

By Dr. Billy Beaudreau, PT, DPT, MTC, OCS, FAAOMPT


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