Knee Popping: Causes, Concerns, and Treatments

Discover why your knees are popping and how to treat knee pain
By Luna
Knee Popping: Causes, Concerns, and Treatments

Have you noticed that your joints are making snap, crackle, and pop sounds? Breakfast cereals aside, noisy knees are not atypical. They affect everyone, from those who play sports to those who are getting up in age. It usually isn't a cause for concern; that is unless you experience pain with those pops. If so, it's time to find out what's going on and what you can do to prevent further injuries.

Why does my knee pop when I bend it?

It’s not uncommon to hear and feel your knee pop when you bend it. It’s often a typical part of aging. But to determine if it’s something more serious or needs treatment, pay close attention to how your knees feel and sound. There are three types of sounds that help determine what's causing your knees to pop when you bend and straighten them. They are:

  1. Mechanical popping - a low popping sound from deep in the joint
  2. Crepitus - a crunching sound that is heard and felt from atop the knee
  3. Tendon snapping - a light popping sound heard and felt, typically on the outer knee

Mechanical popping is usually caused by a torn meniscus or loose cartilage. Commonly a sports injury, a torn meniscus occurs by forceful twisting or hyper-flexing of the knee joint. In addition to popping sounds, symptoms include pain, swelling, stiffness, and difficulty extending the knee. The pain may come and go for years without proper diagnosis and treatment. Loose cartilage causes similar sounds. It occurs when the underside of your kneecap unevenly rubs on the front of your thigh bone. It wears down the cartilage over time and results in a popping sound. Pain from cartilage wear is often felt from climbing stairs, squatting, and getting up from prolonged sitting.

Crepitus is a sign of joint damage. It occurs when the roughened surfaces of two joints rub together, causing a grating of cartilage or bone. It sounds and feels like "crunching." If pain is felt simultaneously, it's a sign of advanced joint damage. Other signs to look out for are swelling, redness, diminished range of movement, and malformation of the knee. These can be signs of osteoarthritis. Known as the "wear-and-tear arthritis," it is the most common cause of crepitus.

Tendon snapping is caused by the swelling of tendons that surround the knee. The swollen tendons "snap" when they catch on the knee as it bends. If you rest your hand on the affected area and bend your knee back and forth, you may feel it snap. Tendon snapping is most often associated with IT band tendonitis, which causes pain on the outside of the knee. Runners, hikers, and cyclists are typically plagued with this injury, as are inactive people after knee surgery.

Treatments for knee popping

Infographic copyAnytime there is pain associated with knee popping, you'll want to get it checked by a physician. Both crepitus and tendon snapping are often treated by addressing knee joint inflammation. Mechanical popping may have to be treated by arthroscopic knee surgery. Alternatively, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. A physical therapist can help you learn the proper techniques and exercises to strengthen your knees to help heal yourself. On-demand physical therapy is an easy and convenient option. A board-certified physical therapist will visit your home at a day and time that works best for you. Give it a try. Get on the path to healthier knees and contact us today.

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