Are you hearing popping and cracking noises every time you bend your knees?
Chances are, your muscles and connective tissues probably just need a good stretch.
Why Do My Knees Crack?
Tired of sounding like Rice Krispies in milk whenever you stand or sit? Cracking and popping in the knees can be the sound of fluid getting pushed about or it can be something more serious involving bones and connective tissues.
Cavitation occurs when joints move and the synovial fluid changes pressure, releasing carbon dioxide bubbles. This is common and no cause for alarm.
Some people may also feel a grinding sensation in the knees when squatting; if it doesn’t hurt, it’s known as benign crepitus.
If you experience knee pain when sitting or squatting, however, there may be more going on.
Crepitus (the non-benign kind) occurs when cartilage rubs against the bones and tissues in the joint, eventually wearing the cartilage and causing pain upon movement, often a precursor to osteoarthritis. Strain or injury to the knee joint can result in tears in the meniscus (cartilage) or patellofemoral pain syndrome—pressure build-up behind the kneecap. These conditions should be reviewed with a medical professional.
To ease the harmless but sometimes disconcerting creaks in the knees, here are six stretches you can do to loosen and strengthen muscles and connective tissue to reduce the sound effects.
Six Stretches To Get Rid of Knee Popping and Cracking Noises
1. Calf Release
This exercise uses pressure to relieve muscle tension in the calves. Remember that all muscles in the body are connected to one another—calf muscles join the upper part of the leg at the knees.
Sit on the floor with a tennis or other firm ball under the top of the left calf. Lay your right leg on top of your left, crossed at the ankles. Place your hands flat on the floor however they feel most comfortable. With weight on your hands, roll your calf forward and back over the ball. If you find a tender spot, stop rolling and flex your left foot back and forth for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat as necessary.
2. Hip Flexor Release
Sometimes knee discomfort can be caused by a misaligned hip or tight hip flexor muscles in your pelvis. Releasing these muscles can bring relief all the way down your leg.
Tape or wrap 2 tennis balls together and place on the floor. With upper body weight on your hands, lie face-down with the balls just below the left hip bone, allowing your lower body to rest on the balls. Bend your left knee up to a 90° angle and slowly swing it from side to side for 30 seconds—stop if the knee hurts. Repeat with the balls under the right hip and as necessary.
3. IT Band Release
The iliotibial (IT) band is a ligament that runs from your hip to your knee along the outside of the thigh and connects at the knee joint, stabilizing the hip. It’s very common for runners and other athletes to experience tightness of this ligament, causing inflammation and discomfort.
How to stretch your knee:
Lie on the side you want to release and place a foam roller or firm ball under your bottom leg, halfway between your hip and knee. Slowly roll your leg up and down over the foam roller, allowing your body weight to rest fully on it and moving up from the top of the knee to the base of the hip. Repeat in 30-second intervals for 2 minutes.
If you find a tender area, focus on it and hold your position there for a few seconds to encourage it to release, then roll back to the starting position and pause. Bend your knee at a 90-degree angle and roll again, focusing on the sore spot, then straighten and roll again. Repeat this for 10-15 seconds.
4. Inner Thighs Squat
This area of the leg is often weaker than the quadriceps, adding pressure to those muscles. By strengthening the inner thighs, some of the pressure on the quads and knees is relieved.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing outward at a 45° angle. With weight back over your heels, slowly lower into a squat, allowing your hips to move backward (as if you’re trying to sit in a chair that’s too far behind you—it may feel a little weird but it’s the best way to target those inner thigh muscles). Allow your knees to move outward as you squat and lower to a 90° angle or as low as you can. Pause at the lowest part of the squat for 3 seconds, then slowly push up to standing with your heels. Do 3 sets of 15 repetitions, 3 days a week.
5. Oblique Activation
The vastus medialis obliquus (VMO) is the tear-shaped quadricep muscle located on the inner side of the lower thigh above the patella. It’s often a weaker muscle that would support the knee more effectively if strengthened.
Stand and place one leg forward with toes facing straight ahead. Shift all of your weight to the front leg and squat straight down, stopping half-way to the floor if you can. Keep the front knee directly over the front ankle; going too far forward can stress the knee. While squatting, turn the front foot so it is at a 45° angle and hold 3-5 seconds. Release and stand, pushing through the balls of the feet. Do 3 sets of 15 repetitions on each leg 3 days a week.
6. Side Steps with Resistance Band
Resistance bands have become very popular as an inexpensive and simple tool for isometric exercise. You can get them with various tensions—if you’re using one for the first time, you can start with a looser one and work your way to tighter tension.
The outer quadriceps tend to be weaker than the muscles on the tops of the thighs; this situation can lead to an imbalance that pulls the patella out of alignment. Like the inner thigh stretch, strengthening the outer quad will take some strain off the more dominant muscles and the knee joint as well.
While standing, position a resistance band just below your knees and slowly lower your body into a squat. Take 2 steps to the right, then 2 steps to the left. Be sure to pull your legs apart as you step to stretch the outer leg muscle against the band. Repeat for 30-60 seconds and do 3 sets 3 times a week.
Do these easy knee stretches and your knee popping and cracking sounds will be a thing of the past.