My Knees Sound Crackly. What Does that Mean?

Summit Orthopedics sports medicine physician Daniel Probst, M.D., discusses the possible reasons for knees that crackle and pop.

You get out of bed in the morning, or stand up after an hour in your office chair, and there it is: a crunching, crackling sound in your knees. What does it mean when your knees sound crackly? Is it something to worry about?

What causes crackly knees?

“There are lots of potential causes for that cracking or popping sound in a knee,” said Daniel Probst, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Summit Orthopedics. “Almost all knees tend to make noise sometimes.”

So, how do you tell if your crackly knee is a sign of something more serious? There are two big questions to ask if you’re wondering whether your noisy knees need a doctor’s attention.

  • Is your crackly knee painful?

No matter how much noise it makes, if your crackly knee is not painful, it’s generally not something to worry about. “If it doesn’t hurt, and it’s not causing any problems, a cracking or popping sound alone is not a cause for concern,” Dr. Probst said.

  • Is it causing movement problems?

If you are having a crackly sound in your knee that is accompanied by a change in how your knee moves, that can be a sign of a problem. “If you’re feeling a catching sensation as you bend it, or if you can’t bend it all the way or straighten it all the way, that is a case in which I’d advise patients to come in for an evaluation,” Dr. Probst said. If your knee is locking in a position, that can also be a problem. These symptoms, generally called “mechanical symptoms,” according to Dr. Probst, can signal a meniscus tear.

What other conditions can cause crackly knees?

There are other knee conditions that can cause crackling and popping. Late-stage arthritis, in which the knee’s cartilage has worn away, leaving the bones to rub directly against each other, can cause a grinding sound. But because that condition is often very painful, a crackling sound is generally not the first symptom a person would notice. “If the noise is caused by end-stage arthritis, chances are very good that the patient has been suffering with it for a long time.”

Noise accompanied by kneecap pain is a sign of another possible cause. “Patellofemoral pain syndrome, which is caused by a misalignment in how your kneecap is aligned with your thighbone, can cause a popping sound when walking up or down a hill or using stairs,” Dr. Probst said.

The most important thing to know, Dr. Probst said, is “if it’s causing pain or difficulty, you should get your knee evaluated.”

When to seek treatment for your arthritis

Arthritis doesn’t have to spell the end of an active life. If you are experiencing worrisome symptoms like crackly knees or persistent pain, the renowned arthritis specialists at Summit Orthopedics can help. We work with you to confirm a diagnosis and develop an appropriate conservative treatment plan. If nonsurgical treatments fail to support your lifestyle goals, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons will consult with you and discuss appropriate surgical options. Summit is home to innovative joint replacement options. Our Vadnais Heights Surgery Center is one of a select few nationally to receive The Joint Commission’s Advanced Certification for Total Hip and Total Knee Replacement.

Start your journey to healthier joints. Find your arthritis expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNPlymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.

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