Knee cracking is a common occurrence. If it happens every now and then generally it is not an issue of concern. However, there are certain circumstances where it may pose a problem.
In this article we will look at the following in relation to cracking knees;
- What causes knee cracking?
- When to consult a doctor
- Lifestyle changes that can prevent cracking knees
- How to stop your knees from cracking
- What are the risks of knee cracking?
- Does knee cracking cause arthritis?
What are the causes of knee cracking?
Generally, knee cracking is not a cause for concern. Popping and cracking sounds are usually not signs that something is wrong.
Most joints crack and the knee joint is one of the most common. Most people have knee that crack when they squat down or go through a full arc of motion.
When cracking and popping is not associated with joint pain or swelling we do not usually worry.
But why do healthy knees crack? As we age, the tissues that cover the bones, cartilage, can develop unevenly in areas.
When squatting or standing, the sounds from these rougher surfaces gliding across each other become louder.
It could also be a result of the tissue that connects bone to bone, ligaments, tightening as you move. Or even the joint lining moving over the bone.
Consulting a doctor about knee cracking
Joint pain should not be ignored. If knee pain or swelling accompanies your cracking knees then you should have your joints evaluated by a medical professional.
The joint pain could be signs of other developing conditions, for example, osteoarthritis. This gets progressively worse over time, treatment early on can prevent increased negative effects.
Diet and exercise can help to treat this condition in particular.
Look for swelling around your knees
Fluid in and around the joint can lead to swelling. Swelling, especially when accompanied by pain, can indicate a knee condition that needs treatment.
If you notice swelling in your knees, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Swelling can be an indicator of osteoarthritis, as well as other conditions.
Notice stiffness in your knee joints
Stiffness, or having difficulty bending your knees, can also indicate the development
of a knee disorder. Specifically, this symptom is common with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Check if your knee is hot to the touch
With some diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, your joint will be hot to the touch. You may also notice redness in the area.
If you notice these symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Seek immediate medical care for sudden injuries
If you have a sudden onset of knee pain or your knee buckles, see a doctor right away. Go to urgent care or the emergency room if you have intense pain, you can’t stand on your knee, or you have sudden swelling.
Also, go to urgent care or the emergency room if your limb looks deformed or if you heard a popping sound when you were injured.
To help with the pain right away, take an NSAID like Ibuprofen.
Expect a physical exam
The doctor will likely begin with a physical exam. They may feel your knee, for instance, to check if it’s swollen.
They will also ask you about your recent medical history and why you’re coming in for a visit.
Ask your doctor about an X-ray
While having creaky knees isn’t an issue by itself, it can sometimes indicate the beginning of arthritis of the knee. Ask your doctor if an X-ray is appropriate to check if you’re developing this condition.
The doctor may also request a bone scan, MRI, CAT scan, or biopsy to help diagnose any condition you may have.
Your doctor may also refer you to a sports medicine specialist to diagnose your condition.
Lifestyle changes to reduce the risk
Extra weight puts more pressure on your knees, so it can make conditions like osteoarthritis worse. If you’re beginning to lose cartilage, losing weight may help slow down the progression of this condition.
Work on eating a healthy, balanced diet, including lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.
At mealtime, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. About a fourth of your plate should be a palm-sized serving of lean protein.
Fill in the rest of your plate with whole grains, and have a helping of low-fat dairy on the side.
Cut back on sugary drinks and snacks, as they increase your caloric intake without adding much nutrition.
Exercise 30 minutes a day regularly and calculate your body mass index (BMI) to help you figure out how much weight you need to lose.
Wear workout shoes to exercise
When you’re doing a higher-impact activity like running or performing aerobic exercises, wear shoes made for exercise. Exercise shoes absorb more of the impact than other shoes, taking pressure off your knees.
Make sure to get fitted by a professional at a sporting good store for the most support.
Stilettos and other high heels can wreak havoc on your knees so avoid them as much as possible.
Stand up straight and strengthen your core muscles
If you are constantly slumping over, you’re putting more pressure on your knees, while standing up straight can take some of the pressure off.
To improve your overall posture, work on strengthening your core muscles.
Use an app to remind you to stand up straight or set reminders for yourself throughout the day.
Try planks to strengthen your core. Lay face down on the floor with your forearms flat on the ground. Clenching the muscles in your core, push off the floor.
Rest on your forearms and toes, making a straight line with your body, and hold it for about 30 seconds.
Consider taking a yoga or pilates class, which can also strengthen your core.
Avoid high-impact sports
Collision sports, such as hockey and football, and contact sports, such as baseball, soccer, and basketball, put you at a higher risk for a knee injury. If you’re at risk for developing knee issues, try to avoid playing these sports.
Take 100-300 mg of vitamin E a day
Vitamin E can help slow down the progression of knee conditions such as osteoarthritis. Most people can take 100-300 mg of vitamin Ea day without any side effects.
However, always check with your doctor before starting a supplement.
Frequently asked questions
How do I stop my knees from cracking?
There are several ways that will help you to prevent cracking of your knee joint. It can be as simple as implementing certain exercises into your daily routine, stretching, or even swimming on a regular basis.
Knee cracking is not something to be particularly concerned about, but the grinding motion of your kneecap over and over again can eventually result in a loss of cartilage.
So, it is best to take some steps to avoid knee cracking if you find that it is something you are prone to.
Calf releases to lengthen muscles
To perform this exercise, sit on the floor. Place a tennis ball under one calf. Put your other leg on top of the first leg. Roll your calf up and down on the tennis ball.
If you hit a tight spot, wiggle your foot up and down for about half a minute.
This exercise helps stretch out your calf muscles. If these muscles are tight, they can put pressure on your knee, possibly pulling the kneecap out of alignment.
Try this exercise 6 times a week.
Use an IT band to stretch the ligament
While on your side, place a foam roller under your thigh. Roll your leg up and down on it from the hip to the knee. If you hit a sore spot, spend extra time using the foam roller on that spot.
This ligament stretches from your thigh to your shin. Sometimes, it has tight spots that tug on your knee, putting pressure on it.
Work on rolling out spots for 30 seconds to 2 minutes at least 6 times a week.
Hip flexor release to stretch your hip muscles
Tape 2 tennis balls together to make a larger roller. Lay face down on the floor, and put the roller under your hip just below the hip bone.
Lean into the balls as much as you can, and lift that calf off the ground, creating a 90-degree angle with your leg. Swing your leg side to side for 30 seconds or so.
The hip muscles also work to keep the knee properly aligned. If they are out of whack, it can cause problems with your knee.
Quadriceps sets to strengthen the quadriceps muscles
Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Tighten your quadriceps muscles, using your hand to check they’re tight. Hold for 8 seconds and then release for 2.
The quadriceps are the muscles at the front of your thigh, and making these muscles stronger can help prevent further knee problems.
Work up to repetitions of 30. Aim for 2-3 days a week of strength training.
Straight-leg raises to work your quadriceps
Lay on your back on the floor. Have one leg out flat in front of you and the other bent at the knee. Tighten your quadriceps, and tilt the leg flat on the ground outward a little.
Lift the flat leg off the floor about 6 to 8 inches, then lower it back down.
Begin with 2-3 repetitions and move up to 10-12.
Wall squats to make your quadriceps stronger
Stand with your back up against the wall. Your feet should be 1 to 2 feet from the wall. Using the friction of the wall, lower yourself down until you’re in a sitting position.
If you can’t go that far, don’t force it. Stay in this position for 20 seconds. Try 10 repetitions.
Swim regularly to make your quadriceps stronger
Swimming is a great way to strengthen these muscles, taking pressure off your knee, so try to incorporate swimming into your exercise routine.
Aim for 30 to 45 minutes 3 to 5 days a week.
If swimming is not something that you enjoy you can replace this with water aerobics.
Exercise by walking on level ground
Walking is a great way to strengthen your quad muscles. However, if you’re beginning to develop knee problems, stick to level ground as much as possible, particularly if your problems are structural.
Try walking in a mall or an indoor walking track.
Choose walking for one or more of your 3 to 5 exercise days in the week. Walk for 30 to 45 minutes.
Ride your bike
Hopping on your bike is another low-impact way to strengthen your quadriceps.
Stationary bikes or regular bikes work equally as well, though don’t jump into an advanced cycling class if you haven’t been exercising. Start slow and steady.
Add this into your routine by making it one of your 3 to 5 exercise sessions in the week. Aim for 30 to 45 minutes.
Is knee cracking bad?
Knee cracking itself is not bad. It does not pose a risk to your health or wellbeing. However, if it causes pain or swelling it can be an early warning sign of other issues.
Your meniscus is the rubbery C-shaped disc that cushions your knee. It is the shock absorber of the joint. It spreads the weight evenly so that the bones in the knees do not rub together.
When the meniscus tears it is usually due to sudden twisting or other movements from playing sport.
In young people, this results from a traumatic event, but as people age, the meniscus is more prone to tearing.
Cartilage injury and wear
The cartilage that protects the knee joint can be injured which may result in a piece breaking off and catching in the joint. This also contributes to knee cracking and joint pain.
The knee generally responds to this type of injury by swelling or catching. It can wear thin and break down over time, which is the root cause of arthritis.
Is cracking knees a sign of arthritis?
Yes. When the cartilage of the knee wears down it can cause Osteoarthritis. This is commonly diagnosed in middle-aged and older people.
Once the cartilage has worn away it can often feel like the knee is grinding when you move.
Knee cracking can be an implication of health issues such as arthritis.