Sometimes there’s no better feeling than a nice, crunchy pop when you crack your knuckles or your back. Some people even like to pop their neck joints, rolling their heads from shoulder to shoulder until they hear a “crack!”. Whether you think it’s gross or gratifying, you’ve done it on purpose at least once. There’s no doubt that it can feel so satisfying, almost addictive, and supposedly, there’s no real long term damage done, either.
But what if you’re working out and you hear something snap, crackle, and pop - and not on purpose?
Hearing your knee popping can be a bit jarring - and you might even feel pain, depending on what’s going on. In this article, we’re going to get to the bottom of what makes your knee pop and whether or not you can let it slide or call a doctor.
Why Can You Hear Your Knee Popping?
You’ve overextended a squat or you’re transferring from downward dog into triangle pose and then you hear it - cracking in your knee joints. Along with back injuries, knee injuries are the most common musculoskeletal impairment, so hearing a crack or a pop might set off alarm bells. But what is it that’s making that noise? There are a few causes, some that aren’t serious and some that are - or could get worse if not tended to immediately.
Knee popping can be caused by nitrogen bubbles bursting in your synovial fluid when applying force to your joint. The official term for this is cavitation and is as harmless as popping your knuckles. Usually it’s a painless, but this next cause can go from painless to problem if you don’t pay attention. Cartilage on your femur, tibia, or patella wears down, leaving rough spots that grind against each other and lead to knee popping. This isn’t always uncomfortable but it can eventually become painful and lead to osteoarthritis. If you tear your meniscus, a rubbery C-shaped disc that acts as your knee’s shock absorber, you’ll definitely hear popping and feel pain. In addition to their knee popping, patients with this condition feel like their knee locks up too.
When you feel pain or experience swelling, those are indicators something went wrong and you need to seek help.
Prevention Is Key
Before your knees get noisy, it’s best to take care of them and avoid the question of why they’re popping in the first place. Regular exercise is a wonderful way to get healthy overall and can help your knees too. Give your knees the support they need by strengthening muscles that work in tandem with them. Always warm up before doing any kind of exercises. You’ll get the blood pumping and send a wake up call to your muscles before moving onto your main routine. Plus it lubricates your joints, which includes your knees.
Now, onto the exercises that are going to keep knee popping to a minimum.
If you sit all day for your job, you know what a tight hip flexor feels like. Your hip flexors affect your knees, too. For a great stretch, get into a half-kneeling position. If the floor is hard, put a yoga mat or a towel under the knee that’s on the floor. If you practice yoga regularly, feel free to keep your hands on your front knee or on your hips, but if you need more support, try holding a dowel or rod up and down, like a walking cane. While keeping your body upright, squeeze your glutes so your pelvis is posteriorly rotated. You’ll probably start to feel a stretch here already. Carefully lean forward just a bit, stretching to the point where it feels good. Don’t push yourself too hard, and don’t hold for longer than two seconds. Release and switch legs, doing eight to ten reps per side.
Activate Your Glutes
Believe it or not, your glutes can help protect your knees. A good way to build them up is with squats, although you might hear knee popping while doing these. One reason why people injure their knees while doing squats is because they don’t perform them correctly.
Let’s go over proper squat form.
Start by straightening your spine and perfecting your posture: chin up, shoulders down, chest raised and a slight arch in your lower back. Make sure your knees and toes are out; putting them out of alignment will hurt your knees. Start your squat from your hips and sit back, keeping your heels on the floor the entire time. When coming out of the squat, engage your glutes for a little extra push.
After a workout and in your everyday life, there are lots of great things to keep that knee popping to a minimum or even eliminate it for good. Do some soft tissue work and focus on getting the knots out of your muscles, allowing your knees to glide with ease. If you’ve got a tennis ball lying around, it can feel good to roll it over any tension you feel, especially in your legs. For an extra deep massage, put it on the floor and lean your body down onto the tennis ball, using your weight to roll it around. Just be careful and stop if anything hurts. Foam rollers are another tool you can use to lessen any knee pain you feel. They come in lots of shapes and sizes so there’s a lot of variety in form and function to choose from. A lot of time, good health comes from within. That’s why you should pay attention to what you eat and incorporate food that’s good for your joints. Fish oil, whether from a high quality supplement or from trout, sardines, tuna and more, keeps your joints well-lubricated. Berries are a great source of vitamins and minerals and fight inflammation. If you needed another reason to eat more leafy greens, add joint health to that list.
No matter what, if you feel joint pain and hear your knee popping more than usual, it’s best to check in with a professional.
Don’t ignore knee pain; make an appointment at Victory Rehab today.