Popping In The Knee
By Robert Lim, PTA, PES
Popping In The Knee
Have you ever found yourself walking, running, squatting, or going up and down steps or stairs? Popping or snapping in the knee can be a sign of a few different problems. What is this popping noise, and why does it happen? Usually, when popping or snapping in the knee is not associated with pain, and usually, the symptoms are often not a sign of a problem. However, for some the popping can be a painful experience resulting in a call to a medical professional to seek advice.
As we get older, the tissue that lines the surfaces of the knee called cartilage can develop uneven areas throughout time. When you perform a squat or stand, popping sounds come from the uneven surfaces gliding across each other. This sound is Crepitus. Crepitus is a medical term that describes all the audible snaps, crackles, and pops your joints might make when you move a certain way.
If you have cracking or popping in the knee that does cause pain or swelling, it is recommended that you schedule an appointment with either your primary care physician or orthopaedic doctor if you have one. The following mentioned below could be two common diagnoses that you may have.
Meniscus tears. The meniscus is a rubbery C-shape disc that cushions your knee. It acts as a shock-absorber when you stand, walk, jump or run. The meniscus helps spread weight evenly, so your bones don’t rub together. Tears to the meniscus are often caused by sudden twisting or other things you might performing recreational-type activities.
Cartilage Injury or Wear and Tear
Cartilage injury or wear and tear. When the cartilage covering of our bones gets injured, this can cause a piece to break off and get caught in the knee joint. Cartilage in your knee can also wear thin or break down, commonly known as arthritis.
Treatments and Physical Therapy for Popping in the Knee
Sometimes popping in the knee is due to age-related wear and tear from osteoarthritis. Over-the-counter pain relievers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs might help other symptoms of this condition. If popping in your knee is happening due to some kind of inflammation. Your doctor might recommend anti-inflammatory medications. The R.I.C.E. method is also beneficial, which stands for rest, ice (the area for 20-minute periods multiple times a day), compression g the area, and elevating it. In more severe cases, your doctor may suggest corticosteroid injections to help reduce inflammation to the area.
You are probably wondering will I need physical therapy for popping in the knee; the possibility could be yes. During physical therapy, your course of treatment may consist of manual therapy to help improve tightness in the joint and tissue/muscles surrounding the knee. ROM exercises may be prescribed if you are lacking ROM. Strength exercises may be performed to help stabilize and strengthen the knee during activities such as running, walking, or squatting. The use of ice or heat pack may be used during your course of treatment.
When Should You Contact a Doctor?
Anytime there is pain associated with feelings of a pop or crack you should consult your physician. Let’s start with what usually happens when you hear the pop. Think about our bones having nooks and crannies. You may need to talk to a physical therapist (PT) or athletic trainer (ATC) to determine what exercises can help. When we move, our tendons and ligaments slide along the bones. Sometimes, they catch on one of these nooks or crannies as the tendon or the ligament slides over the bone, then, it “pops” back into place, creating the noise. Usually, this is no cause for alarm.
However, there are other reasons for the “popping* noise in our joints, For instance, when your knee cap – the patella – doesn’t track correctly due to a muscle imbalance, it may grind against the femoral grove, and then “clunk” back into place. Over time, this can cause a degenerative condition on the back of the patella, called chondromalacia, resulting in a painful popping noise coming from your knee.
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