Clicking in the Knee

Knee problems are known to be fairly serious and debilitating due to the fact that they are needed to give us support and to bear the entire weight of our bodies at all times. Of course this means it can be quite alarming when we notice that our knees click, crunch or make other unpleasant noises. As this occurs for so many of us though, how do we know whether this is a cause for alarm or not really a problem?

There are many potential causes for a clicking knee, some of which are potentially serious and troubling, and others which really aren’t a serious problem. To decide which camp your knee difficulties fall into you need to look at the other symptoms that occur along with your clicking and to see if it responds to some gentle treatment of your own.

The first and most important thing to ask yourself is whether or not there is pain associated with your clicking knee. Regardless of the cause of this, if you knee hurts then it is not something you should have to live with and should be troubling for that reason alone – particularly if you think it is going to get worse. If you do have pain in your knee, is it constant and does it get worse or better when it clicks? Think back as well to any potential recent traumas. If you have banged your knee recently then it is normal for it to click for a few hours afterwards, but if this lasts for any longer then you might have fractured or damaged a bone which you should have looked at as soon as possible. If you haven’t banged or bruised the area recently but you are still experiencing pain in that joint that worsens when you walk then you might have insufficient cartilage in your knee joint which is the slightly softer tissue designed to prevent your knee from rubbing. This is serious and could lead to arthritis so should be treated as soon as possible.

Alternatively if the pain is milder and does not feel as mechanical, then your clicking might be being caused by an imbalance in your leg muscles. If you quadriceps are stronger than your hamstrings for example then this can ‘tug’ on your knee and cause a clicking noise accompanied by slight discomfort which will worsen after exertion. To fix this problem you should attend a gym and focus your training on the muscle that needs ‘catching up’. If the pain is constant meanwhile and accompanied by fever, chills and other ‘flu-like’ symptoms then your joint may be infected which will require a course in antibiotics.

You may alternatively already have arthritis for which there is unfortunately no cure (though you should still see a doctor). This is more likely to occur in the elderly or in sites of former trauma and will also likely be accompanied by stiffness and swelling. There are many different causes for arthritis and many different forms meaning you might also experience other symptoms if it is a result of infection or of your own immune system.

If there is no pain, then this might still be the result of one of several conditions and may still require treatment. One way to identify the cause is to listen to the actual type of clicking noise. If it sounds akin to a ‘pop’ then this is most likely nothing to worry about. The knee joint is surrounded by cartilage as well as a fluid that is used to lubricate the joint consisting of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. Often after periods of inactivity or during certain movements these release bubbles which ‘pop’ and crack and is also why you can crack your fingers. This is healthy and natural but you should not forcibly cause your knee joint to click in this way all the same. This kind of clicking is more likely to occur when squatting, going up the stairs or standing up after sitting for a long time, and is perhaps the most common cause of clicking.

Finally if the noise is more of a crunching or scraping noise then this might be the result of your bones grinding against each other. If this is the case then you should be concerned and see a doctor as it can otherwise cause erosion and lead to arthritis. If you catch it early enough then you can prevent damage.

Comments 7
  1. "This is healthy and natural but you should forcibly cause your knee joint to click in this way all the same." Shouldn't this read "you should NOT forcibly cause your knee joint to click?"

  2. Great article. Will consider training muscles that need "catching up". Still, was hoping for other alternative steps I could take before resulting to a pill dispenser… I mean doctor.

  3. Thanks so much for such a complete explanation of the types of clicking in the knee. Mine has no pain and goes away after walking to the next room and only after sleeping all night. I did injure the knee 20 years ago, by not turning properly when getting out of the car.

    Many thanks!

    Judy Nagel N.D. C.N.C.

  4. My knee doesn't have pain but always feels like it's not in place and often cracks after I had twisted it a bit and it cracked about a week ago, very uncomfortable and annoying, what should I do?

  5. This helped right away. I realized when a muscle imbalance was mentioned that it was probably the different type of shoes I was wearing. Switching back fixed the problem right away. Thanks!

  6. I used to skateboard a lot from 4th grade to 9th grade. My knees started hurting when I was in 6th grade and it used to hurt the most until 8th grade. Now I'm in 10th grade, 15 years old and the pain is still not completely gone… Whenever I bend my knees they always make a clicking sound and hurt a little bit. I like to think that it's part of my body growing 🙂

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