Is your knee clicking? Clicking in knees can be accompanied by pain, or there may be no pain present at all. If your knee is clicking with pain, this may indicate an issue that should be examined by a physician sooner rather than later. If you have knee clicking with no knee pain, it's still important to get it checked out, as it may eventually turn into knee clicking with pain. Luckily, most causes of knee clicking are relatively harmless and can be treated.
Common Causes of Knee Clicking
Here are the most common causes of clicking in knees:
Runner's Knee - Also known as patellofemoral pain, runner's knee is a condition that occurs when your kneecap is misaligned and not tracking properly in the grooves of the knee. This condition is most common in athletes, though it may also occur as a repetitive stress injury or in less active individuals. The knee clicking caused by runner's knee is often accompanied by varying degrees of pain, though in some cases the knee clicks are the only symptom.
Meniscus Tear - The cartilage that cushions the knee joint is known as the meniscus. This C-shaped piece of cartilage absorbs much of the force that we put in our knees, so tears may occur due to a sudden injury or from wear and tear over time. Injuries to the meniscus may cause clicking knees, and is almost always accompanied by knee pain.
Ligament Tear - The knee is comprised of four major ligaments - the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in the middle of the knee, and the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL) down the two sides of the knee. These ligaments help with the balance and function of the knee. When any of these ligaments are torn, it may cause the knee to be imbalanced and cause a knee clicking noise or sensation.
Osteoarthritis - This type of arthritis is the natural wear and tear of the knee joint as we age. Because some of the cushioning becomes worn away from the knee, it may cause misalignment and knee clicking can occur. This may or may not be accompanied by pain.
Extra Tissue or Plica in Knee - Some patients develop extra tissue around the knee or between areas of the knee joint. This extra tissue may then cause knee clicking noise during bending. Luckily, this is usually harmless (and painless).
If you have knee clicking pain then be sure to consult your physician immediately to determine the cause. Be sure to let him or her know whether you had a recent injury to the area or if you participate in any sports or other physical activity (such as on the job).
Clicking in knees may also occur after knee surgeries, because the muscles surrounding the knee are not as strong as before due to bedrest. This difference in muscle strength may cause misalignment issues that cause knee clicking. Luckily, this typically goes away as knee strength returns. Be sure to consult with your doctor and physical therapist for suggestions on how to best heal after a knee surgery.
What to do for Knee Clicking
The first step in treating a clicking knee is to consult with your doctor, especially if the knee clicking is accompanied by knee pain. If your knee is clicking and you are concerned but not in pain, then it may be wise to visit the doctor anyway, or bring it up at your next general appointment.
Once your doctor diagnoses the cause of your knee clicking, then a form of treatment can be considered. Here are the most common options based on the causes listed above:
If you have a clicking knee caused by runner's knee, initial care may involve rest and icing the area. Be sure that you warm up and stretch before and after any activity. Make sure that you are exercising with the right technique and form and make sure that your support gear (such as shoes and socks) are adequate and in good condition. Certain knee braces or knee sleeves may help the kneecap track in the proper position.
(Check out the DonJoy Reaction Knee Brace for helping runner's knee and patellofemoral pain. The webbed design has helped many individuals with their knee alignment issues, which may reduce knee clicking.)
For knee clicking caused by ligament or cartilage tears, surgery may be recommended by your physician. During surgery, they will repair and remove any damaged tissue. A knee brace may be recommended after you heal to provide additional support to the area. Typically knee clicking will go away as strength returns to the knee joint. Surgery may not be recommended for all ligament and cartilage tears. If you are not a candidate for surgery, then knee supports may be suggested along with physical therapy to help minimize knee clicking.
If you have clicking knees due to arthritis, then your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help strengthen the knee joint. Osteoarthritis knee braces are designed to help with activity by moving strain from the unhealthy areas of the knee to the healthier areas of the knee, thus reducing knee pain and possibly helping with the knee clicking. In some cases, a physician may also suggest weight loss to minimize stress on the knee joint. Decreased stress on the joint may cause the knee clicking to go away.
Remember, these are just the most common causes for clicking knees. Be sure to consult your physician for the most accurate diagnosis and treatment for your situation. In many cases, knee clicking may be harmless and can simply be caused by extra air trapped in the knee joint or a momentary tracking issue as you walk.