Is It Normal for Knees to Pop and Crack? (BLOG)

Do your knees crack and pop? Find out what causes it here.

Many people experience a popping or cracking noise in their knees as they squat down or bend their knees, and this seems to happen with increasing regularity as we age. The medical term for this condition is called crepitus. It is a very normal phenomenon and, so long as it is painless, there is nothing to be overly concerned about. Whether young or old, cracking and popping of the knees is a common occurrence.

Crepitus can be caused by many things, and scientists are still not completely certain why it happens. One of the reasons for the popping sound may be that the patella is slightly out of alignment and is rubbing against the front of the femur or the adjacent soft tissue. Another condition called cavitation can cause a popping sound when small bubbles of carbon dioxide, which are normally suspended in the synovial fluid that lubricates the knee joint, form a larger bubble and make a popping sound as the knee is bent or twisted (think bubble wrap). Lax ligaments have been associated with an increase in cavitation. Changes in altitude or barometric pressure can often exacerbate the popping sound, such as on plane flights or when there is a change in the weather.

However, if the cracking or popping noise is accompanied by pain on a regular basis, or the knee catches or locks up, then you may have some cause for concern. Pain, sometimes accompanied by a grinding sensation, may be an indication that there is tissue damage to the articulating surfaces of the joint, such as tear to the meniscus. The cartilage behind the kneecap can fray, leading to the pain and popping sound of patellofemoral pain syndrome, which is generally caused by an overuse and misalignment of the hips, knees and ankles.

Swelling and/or stiffness may be indications of early arthritis, bursitis, gout or tendinitis. To be sure you do not damage the joint further, which may require surgery to correct, it is wise to consult with your physician or chiropractor to stop any further damage before it starts.

Your chiropractor can help to realign any joints that are misaligned, which may be contributing to the problem, in addition to suggesting specific stretching and strengthening exercises that you can do at home to support the muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding the knee. Weak quadriceps is one of the foremost causes of knee pain, so exercises to strengthen this area may be a good idea.

Dr. Aaron Martin

Iowa Chiropractic Clinic of Ankeny

1710 W. 1st St

Ankeny, IA 50023

P: 515-964-3000

E: iowachiroclinic@gmail.com

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maxine weimer March 11, 2013 at 01:53 AM
I have a question for you that dosen't really pertain to this blog, but I have osteoarthritis really bad in both knees, and some times I can barely walk, and stairs are out of the question. I am 59 and I am wondering if there is anything that can be done other than surgery or the steroid injections, both of which I do not want. I have done physical therepy which helped a bit to be more limber but became very expensive and I had to quit. I am taking way too many otc pain meds, what else can I do?
Dr. Aaron Martin March 11, 2013 at 04:54 PM
Maxine, Great question. Here at Iowa Chiropractic Clinic, I have been successfully treating osteoarthritis in extremities with chiropractic adjustments and wellness plans. I can perform diagnostic testing and get you on the road to recovery with a specific treatment plan. That may include therapy, rehab, and nutritional guidance, along with your chiropractic adjustments. My goal is to get you out of pain, and then treat the cause, rather than the symptoms, so that your body can heal, and you can live life to the fullest. Additional treatment may also consist of supplementing with Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Clinical studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids "play a key part in the management of patients with osteoarthritis" (Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Osteoarthiric Knees, Nature Reviews Rheumatology, Leslie G. Cleland & Michael J. James, April 2012). Thank you for your question. -Dr. Martin
Jannet Pikos June 22, 2013 at 07:28 AM
I started running back in March using a program that builds you up to running 3.1 miles over a 9 week period. Didn't have any problems and upped myself up to 3.5 miles. Two weeks after that, I started having discomfort in my right knee when I would bend it with weight in instances such as sitting down and stepping up into high places with that foot leading. I made sure I was using the right kind of running shoes and have taken a couple weeks off. I have tried ice and ibuprofen, but they don't seem to really help. I had suspicion it was runners knee, but it's not really improved, although some days are better than others. The pain is behind my kneecap but seems to be in different places. It does feel like something is rubbing together that shouldn't be, but not on a severe level. Enough to raise a concern. It doesn't get stiff or lock up and it doesn't bother me walking or running. I did get a compression brace to wear when I do start running. I don't know if it's really a concern enough to warrant a trip to the doctor or not. I am having a hard time narrowing down what it could be. I am 33, and have usually been a least 40 pounds overweight, but was up to 80 pounds over. I am back down to 30/40 pounds over but I believe some of it is attributed to muscle from running and doing various different ab routines. I have a larger frame and am a very active person. My thoughts right now are osteoarthritis, but we are trying to conceive so I couldn't do the x rays. Does this sound like a possibility or are there other things it sounds like? When I do get pregnant, I am planning on going to the chiropractor because I read that it can help with labor and delivery if you go while pregnant. Thank you for your time Jannet
MARIA J January 22, 2014 at 09:36 AM
Hi Dr. my name is Maria my knees have been popping since middle school and I've never had knee pain till recently I get lots off knee pain on my left knee and sometimes on my right knee I also experience tingly feeling on the side of both my legs and it gotten so uncomfortable to the point that I cant sleep at night plz help do you have an idea of what the cause could be???
Terese V. Hagen March 05, 2014 at 01:33 AM
My knees have been popping more loud and frequent , as you said it's nothing to worry about but I'm starting to get worried. Do you have any recommendations of how i could do things to prevent the popping/cracking of my (left knee)


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