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Why Does My Knee Snap and Crack?

Learn why most knees make noise and when to be concerned.

By: Edward G. Loniewski, DO, FACOS, FAOAO at Rehabilitation Physicians, PC in Novi and Howell, Michigan . Ph: 248-893-3200.


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You may wonder why your knee sounds like a bowl of Rice Crispies and hopefully, this information will help you understand what sounds you need to be concerned about and which ones you can attribute to some normal processes in the knee.

Many people have joints that make sounds which can be concerning to some and entertaining to others. The first thing to look for when you have a sound coming from your knee is if you have pain associated with the sound. This is important since pain may indicate that there is something actually out of place or getting caught in the joint. A funny sound in the joint without associated pain is normally just the lining of the joint rubbing. Your joint is made up of cartilage, ligaments, some stabilizing cartilage rings and fluid. The fluid and the contents of the joint are kept in place by a joint capsule. Without this capsule, all the contents of your joint would be all over the floor which would make a real mess or at least a good scene from a horror movie. This capsule is thus extremely important. The capsule is lined with a thick covering called synovium. This lining actually helps produce the fluid in your joint. Sometimes, the synovial lining becomes irritated. The irritation can be caused by numerous factors but some common causes include, trauma, repetitive exercises, and keeping the knee flexed in one position for a long time such as on a plane or in a movie. The irritation of this synovial tissue will cause enlargement of the folds of the joint as well as some increased production of fluid. When this synovial tissue swells, the folds within the tissue enlarge. When enlarged, the synovial tissue folds look like fine bubble wrap. When this bubble wrap rubs such as when you squat or climb stairs, you might notice this annoying noise sometimes causing a snap, crackle and pop. Although this is annoying and may turn some heads of your friends and family, it is not anything to be overly concerned about. However, it may mean that you have some irritation of your joint and you should avoid the activity that caused this swelling. Think about what may have caused this such as sitting in one place at your desk writing a blog for over the past two hours. Try to avoid the things that may have caused this by getting up every 30 minutes and moving the knee around.

Now, when should you be concerned about a noise? The easy answer is when the noise is associated with a sharp pain or a feeling of instability to the joint. For example, you feel a pop and sudden sharp pain to the knee when going into your basement. Another associated symptom to be concerned about is locking. The locking is NOT stiffness but rather a mechanical lock completely restricting the joint from moving. A true locking event means that the joint is physically locked and stuck in specific position and sometimes requires you to push on the joint to reduce the joint back into place. If you have these symptoms, you should contact your physician for thorough evaluation.

When you visit your physician, make sure you explain exactly what happened when your knee popped, locked or became unstable. Recalling the exact event with as much detail as possible, helps the physician make a diagnosis and initiate the most appropriate treatment. Some common causes of true instability include a meniscus or ligament tear; loose body(floating piece of cartilage), or even a dislocating knee cap. These can be diagnosed with a thorough history and physical exam. Sometimes, other tests are ordered to clarify this diagnosis such as x-rays or an MRI. Although the treatments are tailored for each individual, some common threads of treatments include physical therapy and bracing. Jointhealing.com can help save you time and money with our home therapy kits. In addition, our patient tested, medical grade braces also provide stability and piece of mind confidence. Some of the more common braces prescribed for knee instability include the Don Joy Tru-Pull Advanced Knee Brace or the Breg Airmesh PTO Brace.

Overall, noises from your knee does not always mean that there is something seriously wrong with your knee especially, if there is no acute pain, instability or locking associated. However, if you have acute pain, instability or physical locking, you should visit your personal physician to undergo a complete history and physical. Hopefully, this blog has helped you understand when to be concerned and when to attribute the noise to some normal synovial irritation.

You can schedule a one-on-one personal consultation with Dr. Loniewski at Rehabilitation Physicians which is the largest, private rehab group in Michigan by either calling 248-893-3200 or by just clicking HERE to register on-line. We look forward to serving you soon.


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