Sometimes, knee clicking alerts us to issues in the joint. However, clicking in the knee is not usually something to worry about. If your knee keeps clicking, and if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as pain or swelling, then it may be time to speak to your doctor. Read on to learn what causes clicking in the knee and when it may indicate a serious problem.
It can be unnerving to hear a clicking sound in the knee. In particular, doctors often hear complaints from patients who have noticed their knees clicking when walking or when walking up stairs. Most often, knee clicking is not a cause for concern.
Clicking or popping noises in our joints are often caused by cavitation, when pressure changes in the joints lead to the buildup of small air bubbles, which make a popping noise when they burst. Clicking in the knee when bending is often caused by cavitation, as the bubbles may burst when you move the knee.
However, there can be more serious underlying causes of knee clicking, particularly if it is associated with pain or swelling.
Risk Factors for Knee Clicking
Certain groups of people, or people who participate in certain activities, are at increased risk of developing clicking knees and associated problems, including:
People who exercise with poor technique
People with weak leg muscles
Causes of Knee Clicking
Patients often ask, “Why is my knee clicking?” Associated symptoms can indicate whether your knee clicking is serious. For example, knee clicking when straightening the leg is particularly common and is often totally normal. Knee clicking and pain, however, may be a sign that something is wrong.
Depending on the symptoms, the cause of knee clicking may one of the following:
The cartilage in our joints absorbs shock and allows our bones to safely glide over one another during movements.
If you are experiencing knee clicking and pain, you may have injured or damaged the cartilage. Cartilage can wear down over time, but it can also be damaged by a sudden impact or fall.
Arthritis and Osteoarthritis
Gradual wear and tear to the cartilage is common and is often associated with osteoarthritis. There are many different types of arthritis, though osteoarthritis is the most common.
People with osteoarthritis may notice a grinding or crunching noise in their knees, typically associated with symptoms such as stiffness, swelling, or throbbing. This may also be felt in other joints, including the wrists, fingers, and ankles.
The meniscus acts as a lubricator and shock absorber in our knee joints. We have two menisci in each joint—one on the outer side and one on the inner side of the knee.
Meniscus tears are common among older people, as the meniscus starts to wear down as we age. The meniscus is vulnerable to injury following a sharp, twisting motion, such as may occur during sports or exercise.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
Patellofemoral pain syndrome, also known as runner’s knee, is another common condition. Sometimes, clicking in the kneecap can signal this somewhat ill-defined condition, which essentially refers to pain around the front of the knee and in the kneecap.
If you are experiencing knee clicking when running, and it is accompanied by pain, speak to your doctor about patellofemoral pain syndrome.
Symptoms Associated with Knee Clicking
If your knee keeps clicking, look for other symptoms—some may be obvious, and some may be subtle. If you are experiencing related symptoms, speak to your doctor or physiotherapist for a professional diagnosis.
Some of the most important symptoms to watch for include:
A painful clicking knee
Swelling around the knee or kneecap
Stiffness in the knee
Tenderness around the knee joint
Treatment for Knee Problems and Clicking
If you have knee clicking, discomfort, or pain in your knee—whether associated with a serious underlying condition or not—there are a number of steps you can take to improve your knee mobility and health.
If you have been diagnosed with an underlying problem such as osteoarthritis or runner’s knee, you may wish to consider gentle physical therapy. Introducing safe stretches and exercises into your daily routine can improve your range of motion and reduce your risk of re-injury.
Speak to your doctor about treatment options, and incorporate the exercises and supports below into your recovery program.
Knee supports are great to use during sports and exercise, but they are also helpful during less strenuous activities. By supporting and stabilizing the knee, they prevent joint damage.
Knee braces provide the most heavy-duty support for the knee joint. If you have weak or unstable knees, a brace is a good choice.
Knee braces provide support and stabilization for injured knees, relieving pain and preventing further damage. ( See Product on Amazon)
There are various types of knee braces available, from prophylactic braces with bars and hinges, to unloader braces, which “unload” stress or pressure from the knee joint. Look for a brace with an open-patella design to reduce stress on the kneecap and increase mobility.
Knee sleeves provide some support, but are typically chosen for the compression they offer, which reduces swelling and improve blood circulation. Knee sleeves are a good choice for those who want extra support and compression, without compromising on mobility.
Knee sleeves offer compression to reduce swelling and improve circulation to promote healing. ( See Product on Amazon)
Compression sleeves also reduce muscle fatigue, making them great for use during exercise. Look for sleeves with nonslip bands to keep them in from slipping.
A knee strap—or patella band—is particularly beneficial for treating runner’s knee. Knee straps apply pressure to the tendon below the kneecap to relieve pressure on your knee. Knee straps should be fully adjustable, typically using Velcro straps, so you can adjust them to your preferred compression level.
Performing knee clicking exercises at home will speed recovery and help protect your knee from further injury. Always use correct form, and begin slowly as you master new stretches and exercises. Speak to your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.
Quad Set Exercise
This exercise builds strength in your quads, which protects and supports your knees. Perform this exercise while sitting down, with your leg straight in front of you and your toes pointing up. Tighten your quadriceps, which will lead to your knee flattening, but not bending.
Like the quads, the hamstrings also support the knees. Hamstring curls may be performed standing or lying down, depending on your balance level and preference.
Carefully bend the knee and bring the foot toward your buttocks, as far as feels comfortable.
When you feel ready to increase the intensity of your exercises, try wall squats. Stand with your back and head against a wall and your feet about shoulder-width apart. Keeping your arms at your sides or straight in front of you, gently squat down. Hold for a few seconds, then return to an upright position.
Maintaining Healthy Knees
A clicking knee may not indicate a serious health concern, but taking care of our knees is crucial to maintaining long-term joint health. Follow the below recommendations to keep your knees in good shape:
Maintain a healthy weight to avoid putting extra stress on your knees.
Eat a healthy diet, and increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids by adding oily fish like salmon or mackerel to your diet.
Dealing with Clicking Knees
If your knee keeps clicking, see your doctor for a professional diagnosis. The clicking may be harmless, but diligently monitoring your health is important. Check for signs of deeper issues, such as pain or swelling. Taking care of our knees is crucial to our overall health, so follow the tips we’ve outlined for healthy, stable joints.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle. Through her writing she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.
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