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 henryford.com/ortho.
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.
When you've been hit with an injury, it's natural to want to get back to your regular activities as soon as possible. In fact, it's not uncommon for athletes to sidestep doctors' orders and return to the field or the court before an injury has healed.
"It doesn’t matter how much you train, or how much you prepare, injuries are going to happen, especially if you're an athlete," says Jamie Schwab, an athletic trainer at Henry Ford Health System. "But the real trouble arises when athletes try to play through their pain without allowing sufficient time for recovery."
Risks Of Returning Too Soon After Injury
If you sprain your ankle during a cross country run, it can be tempting to finish the race. Unfortunately, hiding your pain and powering through the activity can actually make matters worse.
"If you continue to work out after suffering from an injury, you run the risk of furthering that injury," Schwab says. So what began as a minor ankle sprain can evolve into a major sprain that sidelines you for weeks.
Returning to play after surgery demands extra precautions. "Athletes are a lot more susceptible to re-injury after returning from surgery, especially if they don't complete the entire 9-month or year-long rehabilitation protocol," Schwab says. In some cases, you can exacerbate an injury to such a degree that you'll never be able to participate in the same capacity.
A Safe Return To Play
The road back to play after an injury is a long and winding one. Before you can even consider returning to exercise, you need to reduce swelling, get pain under control and get your range of motion back to almost normal.
"The recovery process takes time," Schwab says. "But if you stick with it, and you take it seriously, it's going to be a whole lot easier for you to return to the playing field in a timely manner."
Once you get pain and swelling under control, you can focus on agility and weight exercises that will help you regain strength and slowly return to baseline. The key tenets for a safer return to play:
► Be honest about your abilities: "So many athletes are afraid to tell the truth," Schwab says. "But if you're hurting and you're not competing at your full potential, you're letting your team down and yourself down, too." Even worse, you could increase your risk of further injury.
► Focus on building strength: Strength training is critical. It can help you become faster, stronger and more agile on the field. It can also help you recover more quickly after an injury.
► Listen to your body: If something doesn't feel right, pay attention to it. Talk to your athletic trainer or a physical therapist to get to the bottom of what's bugging you and put a plan in place to address it.
Boosting Performance Over The Long Haul
Unfortunately, not every coach and athletic trainer stresses the importance of a maintenance program. In fact, focused training and maintenance exercises are key to preventing injuries in the first place.
"The rehabilitation exercises you begin doing on day one after injury need to be maintained at least three to four times each week, indefinitely," Schwab says. "If you follow that regimen, all of your muscular nagging strains will no longer be a problem because your body is constantly adapting to the stresses. It's conditioned, it's strong, it can withstand the constant changes in direction."
Most importantly, don't be afraid to try complementary strategies. Practice using a foam roller, try cupping to release tension in the muscles and enhance blood flow and consider getting a monthly massage.
Jamie Schwab, AT, ATC, SCAT, CSCS, is an athletic trainer with Henry Ford Sports Medicine and works with student athletes at Edsel Ford High School. She is a National Strength and Conditioning Association-certified strength and conditioning specialist.
To find a sports medicine doctor or athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/sports.