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A Popping Sound in the Knee While Exercising May Be a Sign of Knee Damage

Have you ever experienced a loud popping sound coming from your knees when exercising or standing up too quickly? If you experience this often, please do not ignore it. This is a sign from your body, telling you that your knee joint has been damaged.

Some people may find that their knees pop or crack when they are carrying out everyday activities, whereas others may only experience the cracking when they are exercising. In whatever way the condition may be presenting itself, what is it telling us about our bodies? Let’s find out.

Understanding the structure of the knee joint

Before we even know the reasons why, we’ll hear a cracking or popping sound coming from our knee during exercise or movement. The first thing we need to understand is the internal structure of the knee, which consists of three main parts: the femur, which is the bone attached to the top of the knee; the tibia, which is the shinbone attached to the bottom of the knee; and the patella, which is the bone at the front of the knee joint.

All three of these main parts are connected by ligaments. The contact points are covered in a joint lining, as well as pain receptor cells and a thick joint cartilage that is smooth and slides easily. This cartilage is responsible for reducing the impacts and shocks to the knees that occur during movement. Inside the joint itself is a liquid, which is known in the medical field as synovial fluid. This fluid helps to reduce friction inside the knee joint and assists with weight distribution, too.

Causes of knee cracking

Generally, sounds coming from the knees – or “knee cracking” as it is sometimes known – happens as a result of damage to the knee. It is actually damaged cartilage that causes the sounds. Normally the cartilage is smooth and shiny, but when damaged, it cannot perform its usual function.

This also causes the synovial fluid to cease functioning normally, so that when the knee is moved during physical activity or exercise, there is friction and a rubbing together of the cartilage, which leads to the cracking or popping sound in the knee joint. The more damage that occurs, the thinner the knee cartilage on the joint surface becomes, thus leading to increased friction and a subsequent increase in the amount of cracking sounds, even when not exercising.

As a reaction to this, there will be a growth on the bone surfaces, called an osteophyte, and when the joint tissue is inflamed due to the increase in synovial fluid, the joint will become swollen.

Next, muscle dystrophy will occur, causing gradual change in the joint. Most patients are unaware of this, but it can eventually lead to problems in the daily life of the person affected. I would therefore like to say that, if you are experiencing cracking in your knees, do not think of it as a completely normal part of life. It may be a sign that your body is trying to warn you about knee damage.

If you are aware of these symptoms, you should really make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible to receive medical advice for your condition. However, patients usually only make a doctor’s appointment when they are already experiencing pain or a frozen knee, rather than when they are experiencing only the knee cracking warning signs. Both, however, are symptoms indicating that the knee joint has already been severely damaged.

How to treat the cracking caused by knee damage

If patients are only experiencing a cracking in their knee when exercising, the doctor will be unable to diagnose exactly what type of knee damage has occurred. However, most patients only seek medical attention when they are experiencing pain alongside the cracking in the knees.

The first step toward treatment is to analyze the patient’s medical history and perform a health assessment, with particular focus on the knees. X-rays and MRI scans may also be carried out to evaluate the internal state of the joint. If the condition has been caused by knee damage, the doctor will find that the joint cavity has decreased in size.

Aside from this, blood samples will be taken to analyze whether the patient is suffering from any congenital conditions that would affect the joints. An examination of the synovial fluid in the knee will also be undertaken.

When the condition has been accurately diagnosed, a treatment plan will be discussed and put in place. In cases where the knee joint is damaged, non-surgical treatments range from lifestyle changes, weight loss and medication to physical therapy courses. However, if the patient’s knee is severely damaged, surgical treatment must be considered.

Currently, the preferred method is arthroscopic surgery, a form of minimal invasive surgery (MIS) which is extremely safe, leaves patients with minimal scarring and causes hardly any pain at all.

This technique also helps provide an accurate diagnosis of issue while the surgery is performed. Another benefit of this treatment is that due to the pain and scarring being so minimal, patients do not need to stay in hospital for a long time.

These days, doctors are utilizing arthroscopic surgery as their standard form of treatment for numerous types of knee injury, including treatment or repair of the meniscus, anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament and various types of joint surface damage.

When deciding whether to carry out knee joint repair surgery or total knee replacement surgery, the doctor will take the root causes of the condition into consideration, as well as other factors affecting the patient.

With this in mind, I’d like to summarize everything mentioned in this article. First of all, if you are experiencing a cracking in your knee when exercising, please do not ignore it. That sound may just be a sign from your body, telling you that your knee is sustaining regular damage. Moreover, if you suffer knee pain alongside a cracking in your knee, I highly recommend that you make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible, in order to have an examination.

If your knee has sustained damage, making alterations to your lifestyle could help reduce the impact of the problem. If left untreated for an extended period of time, the knee could be damaged much more seriously. Such damage could mean that total knee replacement surgery is necessary, which is still sure to cost you a lot, although modern techniques have made this procedure much simpler than only a few years ago. The best choice you can make is to seek treatment for the condition before it reaches that point.


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Werayut Chayapinun, M.D. Summary: Orthopedics Orthopedics