Snap, Crackle & Pop: Why Do My Knees Make Noises - And Should I See a Doctor?

Do you ever just go about your daily life and then, seemingly out of nowhere, your knee makes a noise?

You might call it a weird idiosyncrasy and not think twice about it—or you might turn to the Internet to try and find all of the potential issues that might be wrong with your knee.

But if your knee pops or cracks once in a while, it’s usually no cause for concern. After all, joints sometimes make noises, and knees are no exception (especially when you squat or sit down.)

“Infrequent knee pops and cracks are more common in the younger population, says Nancy White, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. “When you feel that ‘pop,’ it means your kneecap was pulled a bit outside of where it’s supposed to be, and so it’s correcting itself and getting back into position. You can kind of feel that something moved.”

If, however, pain or swelling accompanies a noisy knee, you should have it evaluated by a sports medicine provider. And if your knee is popping or cracking regularly, that's another sign you should have it checked out. 

“If you let it go, your knee could get worse,” says Dr. White. “There are recommendations a doctor can make to prevent this from happening, such as strengthening and flexibility exercises.”

What Is Knee Crepitus?

If your knee sounds like Rice Krispies crackling (or you experience a grinding sensation) it likely means you have knee crepitus, which can signify the beginning of osteoarthritis behind the kneecap.

“Knee crepitus is primarily caused by an issue called patellofemoral dysfunction,” says Dr. White. That sounds like a mouthful, but it means that your knee isn’t tracking straight up and down like it’s supposed to.

“There’s cartilage on the back of your kneecap and on the front part of your thigh, and the cartilage on the front part of your thighbone makes a groove so the kneecap can glide straight up and down in a floating position,” says Dr. White. “If the cartilage is worn down (and inflamed, worn-down cartilage signifies osteoarthritis), the kneecap can’t smoothly glide up and down, causing knee crepitus.”

If you are experiencing knee crepitus, you should see a sports medicine primary care physician, especially if it is accompanied by pain. They can recommend a variety of treatments, such as physical therapy and cortisone injections.

Still not sure if your noisy knees are cause for concern? When in doubt, call your doctor. After all, the sooner your doctor can examine it, the sooner you can prevent an issue from getting worse.

To learn more about your orthopedic condition or to find a provider, visit

Dr. Nancy White is a sports medicine physician with Henry Ford Health. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Novi, and Henry Ford Medical Center – Bloomfield Township.

Sports Injuries & Student Athletes: A Parent’s Guide

February 6, 2024

Playing sports is a great way for children of all ages to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It also builds confidence and teaches them valuable life lessons, like working as a team and the value of hard work. While it may be every sports fanatic’s dream to have their kid make it big time in the arena or on the diamond, sometimes pushing young athletes to be the best at a young age can lead to serious injuries that will take them out of the game altogether.

Henry Ford Health"Sports help with physical and psychological well-being," says Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. "However, year-round participation in a single sport at a young age can lead to overuse injuries and mental burnout."

Nowadays, many kids will start playing one sport at a young age and continue to play that same sport year-round for years. This can be harmful to your child because his or her soft tissue and bone structures aren't fully developed. Furthermore, the pressures of year-round participation and focus on excelling, rather than enjoyment, can negatively affect a young athlete's mental health.

Basketball causes the most injuries among high schoolers, causing many visits to the emergency room each year for stressed and torn ankle ligaments. In baseball, the Tommy John surgery, a procedure to reconstruct torn ligaments in the elbow after overuse, has also been increasingly used to treat young athletes still in high school.

How To Prevent Sports Injuries

Preparing your children appropriately before a sports season begins and supporting them during the season is important. Dr. Santa Barbara offers four key pieces of advice to help your youth athletes avoid injury.

1. Don’t limit your child to one sport. Playing a variety of sports in different seasons is a great way to work different parts of the body. When your child gets older, they can make the transition to playing a single sport they are good at and enjoy.

2. Warm up. Make sure your child is properly warming up before they play any sport. Dynamic warmups--incorporating exercises that involve moving the body such as lunges, high knees and arm circles – are preferable to stretching alone.

3. Strengthen core muscles. Building up core strength takes pressure off joints in the arms and legs. It gives young athletes more momentum and can help improve their performance.

4. Abide by rest rules. Many schools and sports leagues have rules in place to limit how many teams kids are on or how often they play. Follow these to ensure your child is allowing time for their joints and muscles to recover from physical activity.

Children participating in a sport should never push through pain, and injuries should be promptly evaluated by a sports medicine physician. Physical injuries are often more obvious, while mental health issues due to sports participation can be more subtle. Symptoms such as fatigue and declining performance can be signs of burnout. In these situations, rest is also important.

"Sports should be fun for kids," says Dr. Santa Barbara. "Avoiding single-sports specialization at a young age keeps the focus on enjoyment while reducing the physical and psychological risks of year-round participation."

To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford Health, visit or call 313-651-1969.

Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., is a non-operative sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit, Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, Henry Ford Medical Center - Columbus, Henry Ford Medical Center - Bloomfield Township and Henry Ford Medical Center - Fairlane.