Do you notice that whenever you stand up or walk downstairs that your knee pops? Chances are, your muscles and connective tissues just need a good stretch.
Why Do My Knees Crack?
According to Benjamin Butts, director of rehabilitation services and performance therapy at Providence Saint John’s Health Centre in Santa Monica, knee’s crack because “the fluid that coats your joints [is] being pushed through certain ranges of motion (1).” This effect, otherwise known as cavitation, occurs when joints move and the synovial fluid changes pressure, releasing carbon dioxide bubbles. It is quite harmless.
Other people may experience a grinding sensation in the knees when squatting; if it doesn’t hurt, it is known as benign crepitus (2).
If knee cracking and popping comes with pain, it can point to more serious issues that involve the bones and connective tissue of the knee. When this happens, your cartilage is rubbing against the bones and tissues in the joint, eventually wearing the cartilage and causing pain upon movement – often a precursor to osteoarthritis.
Strain or injury to the knee joint can also result in tears in the meniscus (cartilage), or patellofemoral pain syndrome, where pressure builds up behind the kneecap. If you have any knee issues that are accompanied by pain, seeking out a medical professional or physiotherapist might be your best option.
To ease otherwise harmless (but disconcerting) creaks in the knees, here are six stretches you can do that will help strengthen the muscles and connective tissues. As a bonus, they will also help relax any tight muscles that may be contributing to noisy knees.
Six Stretches For Noisy Knees
To alleviate awkward noises and keep potential injuries from showing their ugly faces, try these exercises at least 3 times a week for best results.
1. Calf Release
Self myofascial release helps relieve muscle tension and tightness via direct pressure. By releasing tight muscles, you’re also activating them, and allowing the muscles to return to a state of balance.
1. Sit with your calf on top of a tennis ball, and stack your other leg on top.
2. Roll yourself up and down over the ball.
3. If you find a tender spot, stop and point your foot up and down for 30 seconds.
4. Repeat as needed.
2. IT Band Release
The Illiotibial (IT) band is a ligament that runs down the outer edge of the thigh from hip to shin. It’s attached to the knee and helps stabilize and move the joint. When it becomes inflamed, it can completely put the knee out of alignment.
1. Lie on the side you want to release and place a foam roller under your bottom leg, halfway between your hip and knee.
2. Slowly roll your leg up and down over the foam roller, allowing your body weight to rest fully on it and moving up from the top of the knee to the base of the hip.
3. Repeat in 30-second intervals for 2 minutes.
4. If you find an extra tender area, hold the foam roller in position over the area for a few seconds to encourage release. Then, roll back to the starting position and pause. Bend your knee at a 90-degree angle and roll again, focusing on the sore spot, then straight and roll again. Repeat for 10-15 seconds.
3. Hip Flexor Release
Sometimes knee discomfort can be caused by a misaligned hip or tight hip flexor muscles in your pelvis. Releasing these muscles can bring relief all the way down your leg.
1. Tape or wrap two tennis balls together and place on the floor.
2. With your upper body weight in your hands, lie face-down with the balls just below the left hip bone, allowing your body to rest on the balls.
3. Bend your left knee up at a 90-degree angle and slowly swing it from side to side for 30 seconds (stop if the knee hurts).
4. Repeat on the other side.
4. Inner Thighs Squat
The inner thighs are often weaker than the quadriceps, adding pressure to those muscles. Strengthening the inner thighs can relieve some of the pressure put on the quads and knees.
1. Place your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle. Keep your weight on your heels.
2. As you start to squat, bring your hips back as if you’re trying to sit in a chair that’s too far behind you.
3. While squatting, move your knees out to the side and go as low as you can (but don’t go lower than a 90-degree angle).
4. Push back up through your heels, and do 3 sets of 15.
5. Side Steps with Resistance Band
The outer quad muscles are usually weaker than the muscle that runs along the top of your thigh. This imbalance can cause your knee cap to pull out of line – which puts pressure on the knee and can cause it to make all sorts of weird noises.
1. Put a resistance band right below your knees and lower down into a mini-squat.
2. Move two steps to the right, and then two steps to the left.
3. Make sure you pull your legs apart and stretch the band.
4. Repeat for 30 seconds to one minute. Perform 3 sets.
6. Vastes Medialis Oblique Activation
The vests medialis obliques (VMO) is the tear-shaped quadricep muscle located on the inner side of the lower thigh above the patella. Strengthening this muscle (which is weakened in most people) can help support the health of your knees.
1. Stand and place one leg forward with toes facing straight ahead.
2. Shift all your weight to the front leg and squat straight down, stopping half-way to the floor if you can.
3. Keep the front knee directly over the front ankle – going too far will stress the knee.
4. While squatting, turn the front foot so it is at a 45-degree angle, and hold 3-5 seconds.
5. Release this position, and then stand, pushing through the balls of the feet.
6. Do 3 sets of 15 repetitions on each leg.