Noisy knees? Here’s the deal. (And whether or not you need to worry.)

knee painYou stand up and your knees make a loud popping noise. You kneel down to clean up a spill and hear a cracking sound that makes you wonder if something just broke. Those sounds can be worrying, but in most cases, they are not cause for concern.


Let’s take a look at why you hear knee popping and what – if anything – you should do about it.


The first thing you need to know is that the tissues of our bodies wear down and get injured as we age. When those tissues develop scars and nicks, they stop being smooth, and that irregular surface will make a sound as we age. It doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong: it just means it isn’t brand new anymore. 

So how can you tell if the sound indicates that something is wrong? It helps to know the various causes of these knee popping sounds, though most experts say that you should let pain be your guide. If the sound comes with no pain, you’re fine. If it hurts at the same time, you need to seek help.


1. Crepitus – As we age, the cushions between our bones wear down, leaving us vulnerable to having our bones rub against each other. This “bone on bone” impact is known as crepitus. It is common and it's completely normal, this knee popping only needs attention if you feel pain when it happens.

2. Cavitation – This is a big word for gas inside your joints. It is the same thing that happens when you crack your knuckles.

3. Muscle Imbalance – It is one thing if your knees crack occasionally, but another if the sound always happens and always comes from the same place. That points to something being off kilter with the muscles that support the joint. This type of imbalance can end up leading to pain and needs to be assessed by a physician.


In fact, even if it is not happening with pain, it should probably be looked at in order to head off pain in the future.

4. Torn Meniscus or Cartilage – Your meniscus is a piece of cartilage that provides cushioning for your knee. It is similar to the discs in your back and can easily get torn. A torn meniscus generally causes pain and needs to be treated by a doctor. If you feel pain along with popping, stop and call your physician.

knee popping5. Arthritis – As we get older, we are at risk for arthritis. Arthritis leads to stiffness, pain, noise and inflammation. Over the counter pain relievers can help, but so can exercise. Check out my video with tips to relieve lower back and knee pain.

6. Too Much Stress on Your Knees – There are a lot of things that can put stress on your knees. Weighing more than you should is one. A misalignment in your back is another. If you are carrying your body in an awkward way it puts too much pressure on your knees, and that can lead to knee popping.

If you believe that you are misaligned, see a chiropractor or spine doctor. If you are overweight, losing a few pounds can make a big difference.

Here are a couple of related blog posts you might enjoy:

8 Ways to Relieve Rainy Day Joint Pain
5 Foods that Relieve Joint Pain
How to Help Knee, Back, and Hip Problems