Hearing cracking, popping, or other noises coming from your knees can be upsetting. Is it really something to be concerned about, though? At what point should you see your doctor? Is there anything you can do to protect — or silence — those noisy knees?
Here's what you need to know.
The Science Behind the Sound
In order to fully understand the appropriate actions to take when your knees start cracking, it's important to first be clear about what actually causes those pesky noises. Cracking or popping joints — clinically referred to as crepitus — are generally caused by one of two factors:
- Gas bubbles. The most common cause of noisy joints is the formation of gas bubbles in the fluid that surrounds them. The bubbles pop as you move, resulting in that characteristic "cracking" sound.
- Age and use. Of course, bubbles aren't the sole reason joints get loud. Through age and use, the connective tissue around your joints can get worn down. As a result, bones and other tissues may start to rub together.
While these are the most common reasons for crepitus, the reality is that many other developments can contribute to noisy knees. Injury, arthritis, or other conditions could also be responsible for noises emanating from your knees and other joints.
When to Take Action
Most people go through a considerable portion of their lives with noisy knees, knuckles, and other joints. At what point should you see your doctor?
Crepitus is not usually a cause for concern if there is no pain associated with it. However, if those sounds are accompanied by pain, swelling, or locked joints, stop the activity and see a doctor as soon as possible.
Of course, there is no harm in visiting your doctor or advanced-practice clinician even when you don't feel any pain from those noisy joints. At the very least, your doctor could confirm that there is nothing to worry about. If the cracks and pops are related to a potential problem, consulting with your medical provider would give you the chance to catch the issue early and take action to prevent it from getting worse.
What Can Be Done?
The course of action your doctor might decide on will depend entirely on the underlying cause. The most straightforward solution in most instances of pain or discomfort is to avoid the problematic activity or movement. A few changes to your routine might be enough to reduce the severity of your symptoms, as well. When appropriate, weight loss can be an effective way to reduce pressure on your knees and improve overall health.
The noise itself doesn't necessarily denote any real cause for concern. In some situations, the cracks and pops are a separate consideration from the cause of the pain. Because of the complexity of the involved factors, it's a good idea to involve your doctor or advanced-practice clinician. With their training and experience, a qualified medical professional can help deepen your understanding of what's going on and how to proceed.