When to Worry: Knee Noise

By: Sarah McWilliams
Copyright: Nevit Dilmen
Copyright: Nevit Dilmen

Our knees tend to take on a lot of pressure during training sessions and events. Many people have experienced the suspicious sounds knees make when squatting, lunging or twisting in certain directions. Because of the amount of ligaments in the knee, tears and strains are common problems many athletes face.

Many people hear pops and grinding when they squat, lunge or even just bend down. Sometimes sounds are perfectly normal and do not indicate any issue at all; however, sometimes these sounds, especially when they are coupled with pain could indicate not only an issue in your knee, but problems in other parts of your body as well.

Dr. Keith Pyne, managing partner at SportsLab NYC, warns athletes not to just assume knee pain is actually about the knee. Many times knee pain could be related to an issue with the hip or ankle being manifested through your knee. “Knee pain could be related to a variety of issues. I just saw two NBA players who both came in with lateral knee pain,” Pyne said. “One was experiencing pain because of a sprained ankle and the other was experiencing a similar pain because of a hip issue.” Ankle injuries, plantar fasciitis as well as hip flexor injuries can be disguised as knee pain.

How do you know when a knee sound is just a sound and when it is indicative of a larger issue?


If you hear a popping sound during your training or event, unless it is accompanied by pain, it’s typically harmless noise. The joint and soft tissue make noises commonly referred to as crepitus, the fancy medical term for joint noise. Cavitation is the common cause of crepitus which refers to joint pressure that allows carbon dioxide to form gas bubbles creating small cavities in the joints. When you make swift movements such as a squat or a lunge, the cavity closes quickly creating a popping noise.

You may be familiar with this noise if you have ever popped your knuckles. There is an old wives tale stating that popping your knuckles or your joints can cause arthritis; however, there is no medical evidence that the tale is true. Unless you experience pain with the popping, there shouldn’t be reason to worry.


A clicking or a grinding noise can often times be the body’s way of warning you that something is wrong. The official term for the grinding noise you may hear in your knees is called benign cretpus and, as long as there is no pain, is not problematic. If there is pain associated with the grinding noise, then there is cause for concern.

A painful grinding noise could indicate the patella, in layman’s terms: the under surface of your knee cap, is rubbing unevenly on the front of your thigh bone softening the cartilage. The grinding noise may mean that the soft tissue of the knee cap is being irritated. For this issue many times surgery or physical therapy may be necessary. “Sometimes pain can be a blessing because it tells you there is a problem,” Dr. Pyne says. When you have pain in your knee, it’s important not to ignore it. Schedule an appointment with a specialist to make sure your entire leg is functioning properly.

Rubber band Snap

Knee pain bike injury womanIf you hear your knees snap or pop and feel acute pain concurrently, then it’s time to worry. A snapping or popping sound at the time of an injury could mean a sprain, a torn ACL, MCL or meniscus, a fractured knee cap or a knee cap dislocation.

If you feel pain in your knees during training regardless if you there is a sound accompanied with the pain, it’s important to see your medical provider to ensure you are not exacerbating an injury and it’s safe to continue on in your training efforts. If your knees feel stable and there is no pain with the sounds you hear, there is typically no reason to worry. Train on!

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