As we age our body starts to make strange popping, clicking, and other such noises as we move. Many patients we see at Haven Physical Therapy have wondered why their knees pop and click and if it’s a bad thing so we decided to make a post on the topic.
Popping/clicking of the joints is called “crepitus” in the medical field.
Crepitus is a poorly understood symptom that creates negative emotions, inaccurate beliefs about what it is and what causes it, and ultimately leads to altered behavior such as avoiding squatting or kneeling.
A study in Musculoskeletal Science and Practice found that most people who have cracking of the joints have a negative experience with healthcare professionals…. Which is unfortunate because at Haven Physical Therapy we want you to feel better about your body, not worse.
Is popping/clicking a bad thing?
NO! The noises your knees make are a normal part of being human. Studies have shown that up to “99% of a cohort of subjects with no pain had patellofemoral crepitus” meaning that popping and clicking of the knee is very common (Mccoy et al 1987).
How fascinating!! 99% of people in the study who had no pain demonstrated clicking of the knee. This shows that just because your knees make noise this isn’t a bad thing!
If pain occurs along with the knee popping and clicking then we are here to help! You can get a free injury screening to help you better understand what the problem may be (or if there is even a problem).
Popping and clicking can be caused by several different things.
One source may be the tendons moving over bony protuberances. This noise is usually more hollow, but don’t worry about the tendon becoming damaged as it rolls over the bone because this rarely is an issue.
Crepitus can also cause a loud noise (similar to when you pop your knuckles). This is thought to be caused by the collapse of gas bubbles inside the joint which is normal.
**the good news is that knuckle cracking doesn’t cause arthritis! **
(Read the study here: Castellanos and Axelrod 1990)
A clunk noise is caused by the slip-stick phenomenon. Stick-slip can be described as surfaces alternating between sticking to each other and sliding over each other. A good example of the stick-slip phenomenon occurs when musical notes are played with a glass harp by rubbing a wet finger along the rim of a crystal wine glass.
The most common source of knee popping and clicking we are asked about occurs when someone is bending the knee with some weight on it (for example when you get out of a chair). This sounds more like a fine grating crepitus. This noise is caused by normal fluid flow through slightly rough retropatellar (behind the knee cap) surface.
As you can see, your body is actually normal if it pops and clicks as you move throughout your day. Just because you make noise doesn’t mean you are “getting too old” for physical activity. Physical activity is actually the best thing you can do about sore and stiff joints!
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