Our clients always ask: Is it bad that my knees and shoulders crackle and pop?
Joints like knees and shoulders can make all kinds of noises, from loud popping noises to grating sounds to quiet rubbing sensations. Most of these sounds are categorized by the term Crepitus, which essentially means “joint noise.”
Like a knuckle crack, loud popping noises from your knees are most likely caused by what is called cavitation. Cavitation results from a change in joint pressure that allows carbon dioxide, which is normally dissolved in your joint fluid—a.k.a. synovial fluid—to come out of the solution and form gas bubbles in the joint. Joints have small cavities and when the cavity closes quickly, the bubble essentially “pops” and makes the familiar cracking noise.
Most medical experts agree that these noises, while disconcerting and sometimes embarrassing are nothing to be concerned about.
You might notice these noises most likely occur when going from a sitting to standing position or during certain exercises such a squatting. If it’s not painful, it’s categorized as Benign Crepitus. Many people experience this throughout their lives and never have any problems.
Another common cracking or popping sound doesn’t come from within the joint at all. During movement, tendons and ligaments that cross the joint can temporarily shift position or drag across a bone. When they return to their normal position, they make a snapping noise. You may have heard this in your knees when you rose from a sitting position, or in your neck when you turned your head. It’s also common in the shoulders. Loss of muscle mass from aging hastens this effect because more bone is exposed. This sounds scarier than it is; it’s actually a normal and harmless occurrence.
If you do experience pain with the noise this can be a symptom of something that may require medical attention and should be discussed with an orthopedic. The undersurface of your kneecap (patella) can rub unevenly on the front of your thigh bone (femur). This causes the cartilage on the undersurface of the kneecap, and on the front of the thigh bone, to soften and eventually wear off so that it hangs in strands of what looks like loose crab meat. This loose cartilage can irritate the surrounding soft-tissues of the knee joint, and result in pain in the front of the knee with squatting, stair climbing, or even just sitting with your knee bent for an extended period of time.
If this is the case, physical therapy, or in worst cases, surgery, will be required to resolve the condition to allow you to return to normal activities.
If you’re still concerned that you may need to do something preventative to protect your knees, there are a few things you can do to assure that you’re keeping your knees healthy as best as you can.
The knee is essentially a “dumb joint” which relies on normal function of the joints above it and below it to assure that it functions normally. Here are some exercises that may help.
Straight leg raises. Without weight at first adding 3-5 pound ankle weights as tolerated. Be sure to keep the core engaged while lifting leg.
Heel Toe Raises and Lowers: This is to strengthen the ankle as knee pain can often be a result of weak ankles.
Last but very important remember to stretch your quadriceps, hips, calves, hamstrings and iliotibial band. Often times a regular stretching program will relieve knee, shoulder and back pain.
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