Knee clicking doesn’t usually require treatment, but when pain or swelling is present it indicates a more serious problem.
Causes of knee clicking
Knee clicking is common as we age and not usually cause for concern. But an orthopedic specialist should evaluate knee clicking accompanied by pain and swelling.
Snapping, popping or clicking of the knee may occur following an injury or spontaneously for no apparent reason. Knee clicking that is not associated with an injury may be due to:
- Ligament stretching or tightening
- Rough patches in cartilage, tissue covering the bones in the knee
- Osteoarthritis, degeneration of the cartilage on the ends of the knee bones
Knee clicking accompanied by pain may be due to the following:
- Plica – a tissue fold around the knee joint that can thicken and become inflamed causing pain and clicking
- Meniscus tears – the meniscus is a half circle disc that cushions, absorbs shock and helps distribute weight evenly in the knee. Meniscus tears often occur as a result of sudden stops and twists
Treatment of knee clicking
Knee clicking that isn’t accompanied by pain or swelling typically does not require medical treatment.
If you are experiencing mild discomfort with knee clicking compression sleeves, gentle stretching, over-the-counter pain medications and resting the joint may help. However, if symptoms do not improvement within a few days, see an orthopedic surgeon.
When the conservative treatment measures listed above do not improve symptoms associated with an inflamed plica, cortisone may be injected into the joint. If symptoms still persist, the next step may be arthroscopy to remove the diseased plica.
Some meniscus tears respond well to ice, rest and non-prescription pain medications.
Physical therapy to increase strength in the muscles surrounding the knee can provide support to the knee joint and help stabilize the knee after a meniscus tear.
Surgery is typically not needed unless there is locking of the knee joint or pain persists despite conservative treatment measures.
Injury prevention in knee that clicks
To avoid injury when clicking is present in the knee, following the below recommendations:
- Routine weight bearing exercise such as stair climbing, resistance bands or bicycling to strengthen quadriceps and hamstrings
- Properly warming up muscles before exercise
- Stretching exercises to increase flexibility
- Maintaining a healthy weight