Katelyn Thies, SPT
Besides pain, joint noises (cracking, clicking, popping) are one of the most common concerns people have about their knees. Many people wonder if these sounds mean there is something wrong. To answer this, it is important to ask yourself if these noises cause pain.
Answer 1: No, these noises are not painful
Explanation—knee sounds themselves do not indicate injury or joint disease. In fact, it’s completely normal for everyone’s joints to make sounds at times, especially with movement after sitting, standing, or lying still for a long time. Inside the knee joint is a substance called synovial fluid—this lubricates the joints and allows joint surfaces to glide smoothly. Synovial fluid is made up of gases and other substances; with movement, changes in pressure cause tiny gas bubbles to form. These bubbles can burst and be released into the knee joint, leading to cracking or popping sounds. This is one of the most common explanations for painless knee sounds and should not be a cause for concern.
Answer 2: Yes, these noises are painful
Explanation—painful popping, snapping, or clicking in the knee may (but not always) be a result of tissue injury or irritation—but there is no need to worry! If you are experiencing frequent knee pain, it may be time to see a physical therapist. PTs can perform a full evaluation on your knees and create a therapy program that fits your specific needs. They specialize in treating this type of pain by using hands-on techniques, teaching stretches for structures that may be preventing normal motion, and prescribing exercises for muscles that can help take stress off the knees.
Bottom line: There is no need to stress about knee sounds! Most of the time, this is a normal process that leads to no future issues. Even if injured or irritated tissues are involved that are causing pain, many people are very successful at managing their symptoms after attending physical therapy and learning about what movements work best for their body.