So What Causes Those Noisy Knees?
With a heart that pumps, lungs that expand and contract, veins that serve as highways for our bloodstream, organs that work to keep us healthy, and limbs that can move in a variety of directions – the human body has many moving parts. In all that work it does to keep you going, your body can make quite a bit of noise. Most of your everyday bodily sounds aren’t cause for alarm, but some can be alarming if you don’t understand what they mean. The noises your knees make are a great example. People often wonder if the squeaks, creaks, pops, or snaps they hear coming from their knees are a cause for concern or a signal for medical attention. To help cultivate an understanding of knee noises, here are four commonly asked questions about them and my answers.
Why does my knee make a popping or snapping sound?
The sound of the knees popping can arise from inside or outside of the knee joint. When the popping sound occurs inside the joint, it may be due to irregular cartilage surfaces rubbing or “articulating” against each other. Sometimes tissues inside the knee joint, such as the meniscus, can tear and get caught, producing a popping feeling or sound. When the popping sound occurs outside of the joint, it can result from tendons that have become tight and inflamed, causing them to move and pop over other surrounding structures.
What are some ways to treat/alleviate knee popping and snapping?
If the popping does not also feature the symptoms of pain, swelling, or instability, then a consistent focus on gentle stretching and strengthening exercises, especially before or after (depending on the activity) more strenuous exercise, may alleviate the symptoms. If the popping or snapping is associated with pain or swelling, rest and anti-inflammatory treatments such as ice and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications may initially help. If there are activities you engage in that are more frequently associated with the knee sounds and the pain, stopping those activities, or reducing how often you engage in them, is crucial.
When is knee popping normal, and when should you see a doctor?
Knee popping can result from typical joint wearing that can occur over time and as we get older. If the knee popping is noticeably worsening over time or if the popping is associated with pain or swelling, then it is essential to see your doctor for further evaluation and guidance. Getting to the bottom of these painful noises sooner rather than later is a crucial step in preserving your mobility as you age.
What are some tips for maintaining healthy knees?
Focusing on maintaining appropriate body weight is one of the most important things you can do to help decrease stress and unnecessary wear and tear on the knee joints with everyday activities. Creating and engaging in an adequate and consistent stretching and strengthening program can also help keep the knee joint stable and working correctly throughout your lifetime.
As a reminder, any noise coming from the knee accompanied by pain, swelling, or feelings of weakness or instability warrants a visit to the doctor for further evaluation. Even if the pain is mild or seemingly just a nuisance that you’ve lived with for a while, get it checked out. When detected, diagnosed, and addressed early, many knee conditions can be managed with lifestyle modifications or other non-invasive treatments. Too often, patients delay treatment of knee conditions because they believe the symptoms of those conditions to simply be typical signs of “getting older” or being “very active.” Neither of these beliefs is true. Pain, no matter where it is in your body, and whether a sound accompanies it or not, is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Be sure to listen carefully so you can more quietly return the activities you love.
8/10/21 Email containing answers by Dr. Yoon to questions from OpenFit.