Creaky knees are often described as a crunchy sound emanated when you bend at the knee joints. Sometimes, your knees may look puffy or swollen but it doesn’t present with pain. Our knees are used practically every day during movements like walking, running, jumping, and climbing. The more we bend our knees, the more we may notice that they are making a creaking sound.
The medical term for creaky joints is called “crepitus,” which can be heard as well as felt when placing your hand over the affected joint and moving it. A big joint, such as our knees, have cartilage designed to act as a cushion between bones. If this cartilage were to become damaged or worn out, the bones in the joint will begin to rub up against each other, possibly creating a creaky sound.
Depending on the underlying condition, creaky knee joints may also present with pain and swelling.
What causes creaky knees?
There are many creaky knee causes. The following are just some of them:
Direct trauma to the ligaments, meniscus, or soft tissues of the knee can cause damage to the supporting cartilage. An injury to any of these knee structures can make it difficult to bear weight on that side of the body and possibly cause the knee to produce a creaky sound due to the loss of cushioning.
Natural wear and tear in combination with the decreased ability to heal ourselves as we get older can contribute to the gradual degradation of knee cartilage. This can make moving the knee joints painful and difficult. This is commonly seen in a condition called osteoarthritis, which commonly presents with creaky knees.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome (Runner’s knee)
A biotechnical problem caused by a misaligned kneecap (patella). This often results in the kneecap sitting too high in the femoral groove or dislocating easily, which may allow it to rub up against the thigh bone (femur), leading to creaky knees. This condition does not necessarily need to be caused by running or excessive exercise, as a direct injury or having flat feet can change the alignment of your kneecap and cause pain and creaking.
A condition characterized by softening or deterioration of the cartilage on the undersurface of the kneecap. It commonly affects young athletes but may also occur in older individuals suffering from arthritis.
It is important to keep in mind that sometimes, creaky knees are simply a normal finding, not presenting with pain or discomfort. These cases are not much of a concern, but it’s still recommended to protect the knees by using appropriate protective measures or simply avoiding potentially injurious activities despite having creaky knees with no pain.
Treatment for creaky knees
If the pain is a feature of your particular case of creaky knees, avoidance of activities that worsen these symptoms is important. The use of anti-inflammatory medication, such as over the counter NSAIDs, helps to reduce pain and swelling as well. Long-term treatment for creaky knees recommends performing knee strengthening exercises and lifestyle changes that promote bone maintenance as well as overall good health. These may include:
- Low impact cardiovascular exercise
- Maintaining ideal BMI
- Eating a diet rich in essential fatty acids, nutrients, and proteins
- Avoid smoking
- Stay hydrated
- Consider supplements to promote bone health
Exercises for creaky knees
Regularly exercise is not only healthy for your body, but can also help strengthen your bone and joints. In the case of creaky knees, misaligned muscles can pull the kneecap away from where it normally sits, potentially leading to the development of a creaky, clicking, or popping sound of your knee during movement. To help strengthen this part of the body, the following creaky knee exercises may help. If exercising with creaky knees are causing any amount of pain, it is recommended to speak to a physician before continuing.
Releases muscle tension and tightness through direct pressure helping to relax muscles that may be shifting the balance of the muscle structure of the kneecap. Begin by sitting on the floor with legs stretched forward in front your you. Bend one leg up while keeping the other leg straight on the ground. Now take a tennis ball and place it under the calf of the stretched-out leg while taking your other leg and placing it on top. Roll the ball up and down the calf until you find a tender spot. At this point, stop and simply point your foot up and down. Do this for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.
Hip flexor release
This exercise helps to correct a misaligned hip. Begin by taping two tennis balls together and lying on your stomach with the tennis balls just below your hip bone. Now lean a comfortable amount of weight on to the balls. Bend one knee, so that the bottom of your foot is facing straight up, and swing it from side to side as much as you can. Repeat as needed in 30 seconds to two-minute intervals.
Iliotibial (IT) band release
The iliotibial ligament runs down the outer edge of the thigh from the hip to the shin and attaches to the knee to help stabilize and move the joint. When this ligament is tight it can misalign the kneecap. Begin by lying on your side with a foam roller under your bottom leg, just above the knee but below the waist. Support yourself by keeping an arm on the flow and the other on our hip. Now slide your leg up and down the foam roller moving from the top of the hip to the base of the knee. Repeat as needed in 30 seconds to two-minute intervals.
Side steps with resistance band
Helps strengthen the quadriceps muscles of the thigh, which is important for maintaining balance. Begin by pulling a circular medium resistance band up to your knees, then lowering down to a squatting position. You may also do this exercise while standing if squatting proved too difficult. Now move two steps to the right, then two steps to the left, all while working hard to pull your legs apart and stretching the band. Repeat one 30-second to 1-minute set three times, three days a week
Inner thighs squat
Helps to strengthen the inner thigh, which can help prevent or reduce knee pain. Begin by placing your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed at a 45-degree angle while keeping your weight on your heels. Now, slowly move into a squat position and bring your hips down as if you were trying to sit in a chair. Try to go as low as you can by moving your knees out to the sides. Try to do three sets of 15, three days a week.
Vastus medialis oblique (VMO) activation
Also known as the tear-drop shaped muscle, running along the inside of your kneecap. It is one of the weaker muscles of the thigh, which can lead to knee pain and other symptoms. To perform this exercise, begin by standing in a split stance, keeping your weight on your front leg. Now squat straight down, stopping halfway. Your front knee should stay directly over your ankle, looking as if you were going to tie your shoe. While in this position, twist your front leg to the right holding it for three to five seconds, then release and stand up. Now repeat on the opposite side. Try to do three sets of 15 on each leg, three days a week.