If you have ever heard your knees making noise when you step up, bend down, or stand up, it can be a little unnerving. What is causing it? Is there a problem with your knees?
Many of our joints can make noises at times and knees are no different. So why do knees click or pop when they bend? And when is it a concern?
There are several possibilities for the clicking or popping noises you may hear:
Air bubbles in the synovial fluid: Synovial fluid is found in all our joints. It helps the bones glide smoothly over one another. Air bubbles can form in this fluid. When you bend your knee, these tiny bubbles can escape and result in a popping noise. These escaping bubbles do not cause any pain and are not an indication of any problem.
Movement of ligaments or tendons: The ligaments and tendons around your knee connect bones and muscles together and give us the ability to move and bend. An unusual rotation or movement of your knee may cause a tight ligament or tendon to pop. Along with a popping sound, tight tendons or ligaments can cause some pain in the knee. Stretches or release exercises can help relieve the tension and treat the pain.
Loose or damaged cartilage: Breakdown of cartilage that occurs with age can result in the frayed edges of the cartilage getting caught between the joint surfaces resulting in popping and clicking sounds. Sometimes when there is loose or damaged cartilage, your knee may feel it is “catching”. Loose or damaged cartilage that interferes with normal motion may not be able to heal on its own but can be treated by a simple procedure to remove a loose piece or trim frayed edges.
Arthritis: Arthritis is a general term that refers to inflammation of the joint. When there is inflammation, the cartilage begins to wear down and then the joint does not glide smoothly as it should. Popping or clicking noises accompanied by a “grinding” feeling in the knee joint may be early signs of arthritis. Arthritis is usually accompanied by pain or swelling in the joint. Pain or swelling can worsen after long periods of continuous activity or inactivity.
The biggest indicator of an underlying problem is not the noise you hear, but the pain you feel. If your knee clicks or pops but you haven’t experienced any pain or swelling associated with it, then you shouldn’t be concerned. Generally, these little noises are age-related changes inside the joint. However, if you are experiencing pain, swelling, or loss of normal motion in the knee, you should make an appointment to have your knee evaluated.
Dr. Paul Jacob is a leading hip and knee surgeon in Oklahoma City who pioneered robotic joint replacement surgery in an outpatient setting. Dr. Jacob has performed over 5000 robotic joint replacement procedures and actively participates in numerous research studies on robotic outcomes.