My knees constantly crack and pop and crunch and I'm over it
June 29, 2014 8:35 PM   Subscribe

Please help me attain knee health before it's too late.

So for whatever reason - lifelong issues with being overweight and the possibility that I'm walking "wrong" - my knees have cracked and popped and crunched and ground for as long as I can remember.

They don't hurt, exactly, but it's certainly a sensation, and it's something I am growing more and more aware of and more and more concerned about.

I'm not sure if it's gotten better or worse since I started doing barbell training a couple of years back. Plenty of barbell squatting and deadlifting. Since I started doing things of that nature, I guess I've become perhaps hyperaware of what my knees are doing, and I'm not liking what they're up to.

Even something as simple as extending my legs when I'm in a seated position sets them a-crunching. I'm obviously going to go down the self-therapy route first, and I've been reading a lot about IT bands and foam rolling and glute activation and myofascial release and things of that nature, but I think I mainly want to canvass for opinions and stories and advice before I buy a bunch of things and spend my evenings flopping around on the floor like some kind of mini-Migaloo.

Metafilterites with crunchy knees, what have you done or what do you do to relieve the snap crackle pop, and move about correctly in the world?
posted by turbid dahlia to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Not your orthopedic doc, not anybody's orthopedic doc...and I suggest you go to one if you have concerns. That being said, I'm slightly familiar with ortho care and the doc in my area recommends this workout to his patients.
posted by kattyann at 8:52 PM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

My doctor said "welcome to being 30" and said losing weight and strengthening the surrounding muscles were worth a try. Yippee.
posted by wintersweet at 8:55 PM on June 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

My PT and all of my trainers have said my sometimes crunchy knees are no big deal (they don't hurt). They are less crunchy when I am exercising a lot and on the lighter side of my normal weight range.
Check with a doc or PT but it's probably normal if you aren't experiencing pain.
posted by littlewater at 9:01 PM on June 29, 2014

I saw an orthopedist and had a long stretch of PT for knee pain a few years ago. The advice was to lose weight and take up yoga. I've been struggling with the first part of that, but I did take up yoga and my knees are much, much better than they were. If I slack off and miss a few weeks, the pain starts to creep back up, so it's definitely about keeping up the stretching and strengthening.
posted by TwoStride at 9:15 PM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this is aging, it's gross and I'm totally against it.

You may have some luck as others mentioned above with strengthening the rest of your legs to better support the joints. You'll want to work the ITB with a foam roller after workouts. Squats and deadlifts should not be making it worse unless there is something actually wrong with your joints and/or your form is suboptimal.

Doing stuff that helps you find your center of gravity and balance when barefoot, like yoga, will also help to strengthen the inside and outside of your ankles, which will improve your gait and take some of the strain off your knees when walking or running. Core strength and lower back exercises will have similar results.

I personally try not to do weighted squats with my knees at less than a 90 degree angle because it just feels wrong under my kneecaps. It can help to use a bench as a guide until you get used to automatically sensing the height you're aiming for.
posted by elizardbits at 9:23 PM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I also only do trap bar deadlifts as I feel this lessens my chances of overbalancing and twisting my knees, ymmv.
posted by elizardbits at 9:24 PM on June 29, 2014

My knees have cracked and popped my entire life with no associated pain. When I've brought it up with doctors and physical therapists they all say it's just the way I'm made. I lift heavy, run etc. If I had any associated pain I'd be concerned, but I don't. Bodies be weird, yo.
posted by atomicstone at 11:16 PM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

could just be air trapped in the joint (my hips do this all the time from a lot of martial arts, but its not due to an injury, however much the sound makes people cringe).

or your cartilage is degrading, which it does gradually with age anyhow. take glucosamine chondroitin and MSM if you want to protect your cartilage.

physical therapy can strengthen your VMO and quads and hips, and prevent knee injury/make the movement in the joint smoother. since you lift you may be doing some of this already. working on balance and core strength and hip stability/openness takes a load off the knees. the therapist i worked with after a knee injury had me doing unweighted squats, lots of terminal knee extensions, planks of various kinds, bridges while lying on my back, stepping down on one leg, and a sideways crabwalk thing with an elastic band around my ankles (for the hips).
posted by zdravo at 4:50 AM on June 30, 2014

A few years ago, I started taking collagen hydrolysate and it has worked wonders. My body's odd joint behaviors, many of which have been around since my teenage years, have resolved due to the collagen's joint-preserving and joint-cushioning properties.
posted by DrGail at 5:01 AM on June 30, 2014

Most of your question describes me exactly. Since I started weight training, I'm certain that the amount of noise that my knees make hasn't really changed. I just notice it a LOT more especially while I'm lifting. But, like everyone else, I've been told by a myriad of medical professionals in numerous fields that, as long as there is no pain associated with it, it's totally fine.

I do find that if I move my knees around a bunch while I'm warming up, before I pick up the bar and including a little gently twisting, it decreases the amount of noise they make while doing the lift. It sounds like someone is having some Rice Krispies rather than stepping on some bubble wrap. More importantly, I don't get that sense that things are moving around slightly with those bigger pops as that can be a little distracting.
posted by VTX at 5:43 AM on June 30, 2014

Definitely worth talking to an ortho (not just GP) or physical therapist about. You mentioned the possibility of gait issues - a specialist will be able to look at the way you walk and tell you whether something's not tracking right, and/or give you exercises to strengthen the muscles you need to fix it, and/or give you orthotics tailored to the issue, etc. No reason to wait until there's actual pain, especially as it's bothering you now.
posted by heisenberg at 8:29 AM on June 30, 2014

What helped me with knee pain was bike commuting; five miles each way several days a week. I think it gently strengthened the muscles around the knees so there was less pressure on the joint. Not sure if this is relevant to non-painful noisy knees.
posted by metasarah at 8:53 AM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding bike riding, esp a single speed so I have to work hard sometimes. Lost weight, feel better, and the 38s in my knees don't sound off anymore. I ride early and have tried to get in at least 20 miles a week for about two years. I haven't even thought about my cracking knees for a year, until I read this and realized it's not an issue anymore.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:24 PM on June 30, 2014

I personally try not to do weighted squats with my knees at less than a 90 degree angle because it just feels wrong under my kneecaps

I know this isn't your AskMe, but I feel compelled to offer some advice to you; please forgive me if this comes off as presumptuous. It sounds like your form may be a little off (no offense). Proper back squat form entails bringing your thighs parallel to the ground, or deeper. You won't get the full activation of hamstrings and glutes unless you get at least that low.

Specifically, it sounds as though you may be doing something very common, which is having your knees and butt too far forward at the bottom of your range of motion. The way to tell if you're doing this: your knees end up in front of your toes at the bottom of the movement. There are a lot of reasons that this can happen; one of the most common is limited hamstring flexibility.

I could go into greater detail, but since I'm not sure that you're interested in my advice, and I'm in danger of derailing the thread, I'll stop here. Memail me if you want more info. If you'd rather seek another source, you might want to look for information on the "butt wink" (i.e. the most common cause of this issue). I'm not a fitness expert, although I've dealt with this problem extensively with my wife and now her form is fantastic (she used to have knee pain and a shallow squat).
posted by Edgewise at 10:15 AM on July 1, 2014

(thanks and no prob! thighs parallel to the ground and no knees overhanging the toes is exactly what i do, anything lower than that on a regular basis and my knees feel horrible)
posted by elizardbits at 10:34 AM on July 1, 2014

I had a partner whose joints would creak, crack, and make crunchy noises.

A few weeks after I started making him take halibut oil for his already diagnosed vitamin D deficiency that he wasn't treating, he came to me, and said - check this out!
He waggled his wrists. No crunching.

So yeah, halibut oil and cod liver oil are fish oils with Vitamin D, but if you don't need the D (and actually, most people do), we're back round to the fish oil craze, because Omega-3s are good for your joints.

Just like the tinman. Humans need oils, and oiling. Huh. Go figure.
posted by Elysum at 9:58 PM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

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