7 Things Your Knees Are Telling You If They Crack Or Pop

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If you notice that your knees make cracking or popping sounds when you bend, it can cause a bit of concern. But according to experts, there may not be any reason to worry. Those cracking sounds are completely normal.

"Our bodies are made to move and things that move make noise," Dr. Austin Misiura, DPT, owner of Pure Physical Therapy, tells Bustle. "As we use our body tiny irregularities can form. For example, if you get a deep cut, you likely develop a scar which is slightly darker and thicker than the surrounding skin. The same happens if we injure a tissue that we can’t see, like a tendon or ligament." Scars, for the most part, aren't bad. If the tissue surface is not completely smooth, it may "click" as you use it.

The cracking, snapping, and popping can become more noticeable with age. But it can happen to anyone. According to Dr. Misiura, there are a few different reasons why knees, or any joint for that matter, makes noise. "Most of them are not necessarily a bad thing," he says. "This isn’t to be thought of the same way as when your car makes a noise."

So a good rule of thumb is, if there's no pain, you're likely OK. But here are some things it can mean if your knees crack or pop, according to experts.

1. You May Have Crepitus If You're Older Or Inactive

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Crepitus typically occurs in older or inactive individuals. According to Dr. Misiura, "This is the 'bone on bone' cracking or noise that occurs when the smooth cartilage that separates either side of the joint starts to erode and the interface becomes less congruent." He suggests seeking medical care only if the noise is accompanied by pain or swelling. It's important to note that some level of joint breakdown is normal, especially if you're moving around a lot. "As long as we stay active and use good form while exercising that 'breakdown' can be pain free in the overwhelming majority of cases," he says.

2. The Gas Inside Your Joints Are Popping Back Into Place

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This is less common with knees, but it does occur. Cavitation is the "official word" for what happens when you crack your knuckles or when someone cracks your back. While Dr. Misiura says the exact mechanism is still a little fuzzy, "it is thought that the sound comes from the gas inside the joint 'popping' back into the middle after the tissues have been stretched slightly passed their end range." According to him, it's almost like a depressurization when you pop your ears on an airplane. If there are no painful symptoms involved, you don't have to worry.

3. There's An Imbalance That Needs To Be Corrected

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"If one or both knees are popping all the time, it could be a sign of an imbalance in the surrounding musculature," Dr. Misiura says. This may cause your body to want to "reset" the joint so it becomes more balanced. If you're concerned, it's not a bad idea to do a musculoskeletal screen in order to determine if there are any asymmetries in your body. According to Dr. Misiura, asymmetries are a leading cause of "insidious onset orthopedic pain." So getting screened for it is a step towards injury prevention.

4. There May Be Tears In Your Meniscus

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Your meniscus is the disc that essentially cusions your knee. According to Caleb Backe, Certified Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics, it's supposed to act as a shock absorber if it's in good shape. But if there are tears, it can result in that cracking noise.

5. You May Have Arthritis

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Most of the time, the popping and cracking are normal. But as Dr. Peter Blenkarn, DC with NimbusClinics, tells Bustle, any pain associated with it could be a symptom of a knee injury or osteoarthritis. If you do have osteoarthritis, you'll have stiffness in the joints, swelling, and pain.

6. You May Have A Cartilage Injury

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When cartilage is injured it can cause a piece to break off, which will then cause the loose part to "swim around" in the joint. "This will often be accompanied by swelling and your knees might feel like they’re grinding when you move," Backe says.

7. There's A Misalignment In Your Lower Back

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“Crepitus and arthritis are commonly associated with a misalignment of your low back and knee joints," Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center tells Bustle. "When the back is misaligned, it puts additional tension on the lower extremity because the person leans more to one side to compensate." When you're putting extra stress on your knee joints, it can lead to popping or degenerative problems.

Talking to a doctor or a physical therapist can help to ease your mind. It never hurts to know for sure, especially if cracking and popping are accompanies by pain. If not, consider it normal.