Why Are My Knees Popping and Cracking?

Noise in the knee joint in the form of cracking, popping or clicking is very common and is not always as scary as it may sound. Most people have knees that crack or go through the full arc of motion, generally this nothing to worry about when it isn’t associated with pain or swelling.

By listening to your body and knowing what’s normal and what is not normal, this may help when diagnosing an abnormal sound coming from the knee joint.

What causes these sounds in the knee?

Noisy knees could be down to age, as the tissue which covers the bones (cartilage) can develop uneven areas so when we squat or stand, sounds come from these tougher areas gliding across each other. It could also be ligaments tightening as you move or the joint lining moving across the bones.

The popping sound relates to the bubbles that can form in the synovial fluid around your joints. Bubbles of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide can form when the joint is stretched or moves, this then realises a popping noise. Unless it is causing pain, swelling or the knee is giving way, it is nothing to worry about.

Performing unnecessary twisting or ‘self-cracking’ is unwise and can lead to ligaments tearing or can increase the wear and tear on the cartilage.

When popping or cracking could be a problem.

If there is pain in the knees along with the popping and cracking this could indicate a problem. Other signs to look out for include tingling, numbness and stiffness. This could mean that the cartilage in your joints has a worn away and that you are developing osteoarthritis.

It could also be a meniscus tear, especially if you have cracking or popping while you are working out or playing sport. You may have really injured your knee.

How can I help prevent knee cracking and popping?

– Warm up before you exercise – performing a simple warm up can help loosen the joints and increase blood flow to the muscles.
– Use foam rollers – This helps to soothe out air bubbles (knots) from your muscles. Depending on the stage you are at with your physiotherapy, you should start off very lightly as this can be very uncomfortable and painful at times, even for the most in-shape athlete.
– Improve muscle flexibility – by performing simple stretches especially for the knee, this can help with the flexibility.
– Strengthen glutes, hamstrings and quads
– Visit a physiotherapist to help improve your mobility

Seek help – Visit a physiotherapist as soon as possible if you are in severe pain or if you have a severe or persistent injury. To book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists please call 0114 268 6677 or email info@sheffieldphysiotherapy.co.uk.

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The Author

Lewis Payne

Lewis graduated from The University of Nottingham in 2013 with a First Class Honours in Physiotherapy, worked as Sheffield F.C.’s first team Physiotherapist, and now runs a leading-edge private clinic in Sheffield. With over ten years of experience, he specialises in manual therapy, advanced technological treatments, and exercise-based approaches, focusing on spinal and joint conditions, sports injuries, and specifically complex spinal issues like disc pathology and scoliosis. Lewis leads in IDD Therapy, performing over 6000 treatments, offers MRI referrals and reviews, and employs a holistic treatment philosophy viewing the body as a Tensegrity structure. He excels in postural analysis, soft tissue release techniques, and prescribes biomechanical corrective exercises to enhance natural movement.