You sit for awhile, and when you stand up your knees go crack! It’s even worse when you have pain associated with the cracking. Ever wonder why your knees make that awful sound? There are a few explanations and maybe even some remedies. Let’s learn more about those cracking knees.
Knee Space Anatomy
Knowing a bit about knee anatomy can help you understand why knees crack. The main components of your knee joint are:
- Three bones: Thighbone (femur), shinbone (tibia) and kneecap (patella)
- Articular cartilage: Covers areas where bone meets bone; cartilage allows bones to slide smoothly during leg movement
- Meniscus: A pair of C-shaped cartilage wedges that cushion impact during walking, running, or jumping; this is the cartilage typically referred to when speaking about torn cartilage in the knee
- Ligaments: Strong fibers that connect bone to bone for knee stability; collateral ligaments are on either side of your knee; cruciate ligaments are deep within the knee
- Tendons: Connect the ends of muscles to the bone; when the muscles contract, they pull on the tendons, which leads to leg movement
As you can see, there is a wide range of components in your knees. Normally, these all function smoothly to provide fluid motion with minimal or no cracking and no pain. However, due to damage or wear and tear, the anatomy of your knee can change. Once this happens, movement might not be as smooth, which can lead to audible cracks when you bend or straighten your knee.
A little bit of noise when you move your knees can be normal, and is very common. Doctors even have a name for these noises: Crepitus. Also, you can have loud cracking or popping without knee pain. This occurs more often when you are squatting or have your knees bent for a long period of time. It’s simply the parts of your knees readjusting to a new position.
One study from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston followed 3,500 people and found that grating, cracking or popping might be a risk factor for developing osteoarthritis. However, this study was limited to people aged 45 to 79. If you are not in that age range, it’s not clear if noisy knees increase your risk for developing arthritis.
Knee Noise with Pain
Now, if your knees make noises and you also have pain, then something more serious might be occurring. For example, you could have a meniscus tear. Normally, the rubbery meniscus act as cushions inside your knees. With an injury, however, the meniscus can tear. Also, the part that is torn can get caught in the knee joint, which can lead to pain, locking or popping. The articular cartilage can also tear, especially after a sports injury. Plus, with time, this cartilage can get worn down, which may lead to the sensation of bone grinding on bone.
With a meniscus tear or articular cartilage damage, you might hear or feel your knees crack, pop or grind. In these cases, it’s due to a condition that may require treatment by a doctor. In more severe cases, you might even need surgery.
Meniscus Tear — Not Everyone Needs Surgery
For people 50 years old or older, a torn meniscus is very common. It’s also a very common injury for competitive athletes. The good news is that some meniscus tears can heal by themselves. In the past, doctors frequently recommended surgery for meniscus tears. However, new research shows that surgery probably does not provide many benefits in the majority of cases. In fact, your risk for needing a future knee replacement may increase if you have meniscus surgery.
If you have had an injury, however, surgery might still be an option. In these cases, the tear may occur in fresh, healthy tissue, which is much different than a gradual breakdown over time. Also, the level of pain might determine if you should have meniscus surgery. The procedure may involve sewing together the torn meniscus or snipping off pieces of cartilage getting stuck between bones.
In most cases, a conservative approach works best for meniscus tears. This may include rest, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications.
Time and time again, we’ve seen that inflammation is at the center of many diseases and injury processes. This also applies to problems with the knees. So, if you are noticing popping or cracking, it might be a good idea to modify your diet to reduce inflammation. Now, while no specific studies prove that diet cures arthritis, many foods do fight inflammation, improve bone health and boost your immune system.
Some recommended food choices to reduce inflammation are omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods, such as:
- Fatty fish: Halibut, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout and fresh tuna
- Vegetables: Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower
- Oils: Extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and safflower oil
You can also try foods with anthocyanins, which are considered to have anti-inflammatory properties. Some good choices are:
Other foods that may improve joint health are:
- Dairy products: Provide calcium and may also contain vitamin D to keep bones healthy. Consider raw milk, yogurts, and cheese; if you have lactose intolerance, green leafy vegetables help you get the vitamin D you need, and you may need a calcium supplement as well
- Citrus fruits: May also provide some anti-inflammatory benefits
- Green tea: Contains polyphenols, which some believe reduces inflammation and slows cartilage destruction
- Legumes: Food like red beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans are rich in folic acid, magnesium, iron, zinc, and potassium, which help boost the immune system and are good for your heart too
- Garlic: Contains diallyl disulfide, which may limit cartilage-damaging enzymes
- Nuts: Food like walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, and almonds are rich in protein, calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin E and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Broccoli deserves special mention. This vegetable falls under a category that some call “superfoods.” This is because broccoli is packed with vitamins K and C, folate (folic acid), potassium, and fiber. Vitamin C helps make collagen for body tissue and bone formation. Vitamin C is also a potent antioxidant that can reduce damage from free radicals. All of these benefits may help prevent knee inflammation and maintain joint health. However, there’s more. Introducing – super broccoli!
As if this superfood wasn’t super enough, Beneforte broccoli is even better. This product was created using cross-pollination and selection to combine commercial broccoli with a special wild broccoli from southern Italy. Compared to normal broccoli, this wild broccoli contains even more phytonutrients, like glucoraphanin. In humans, glucoraphanin gets transformed into sulforaphane. This substance has very powerful antioxidant effects. Sulforaphane also optimizes the antioxidant activity of vitamins A, C, and E.
If inflammation is causing pain in those creaky knees, there might not be anything better for you than Beneforte broccoli. You also get the added benefit of cancer and heart disease prevention.
Here’s some advice to maximize your knee health and stability:
- Practice non-impact knee strengthening exercises like cycling, spinning, water aerobics or swimming
- If you have pain after workouts, apply cold for 15 to 20 minutes to each knee. Try a bag of ice wrapped in a damp towel
- Don’t squat for long periods or sit in uncomfortable positions; get up and move around frequently, for example, during long plane rides.
- Make sure you use well-fitting footwear; avoid walking in bare feet or on uneven surfaces
- Consult with a physical therapist about knee strengthening exercises you can do at home
- Keep your weight under control to put less strain on your knees; avoid carrying heavy loads, especially up and down stairs
Stop Cracking Knees
If your knees already crack, you might not be able to make them stop. Still, you can take steps to avoid further problems and maybe even prevent painful arthritis. Take care of your knees and stay mobile.
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