If My Knees Crack When I Squat Is There Something I Can Take to Help It?

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If your knees are cracking when you squat you might need to strengthen your quads.
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A cracking sound in the knees when squatting isn't always a reason for concern. If you experience this issue regularly, consider taking supplements for cracking knees. Watch out for other symptoms, such as pain and swelling, which may indicate a more serious condition.

Tip

Certain supplements, such as fish oil, may help relieve pain and inflammation, but they won't necessarily stop your knees from cracking. If you experience this issue during exercise, focus more on strengthening your quads.

What Causes Knee Crepitus?

Popping or cracking knees are a common occurrence. These crunching sounds are known as crepitus, notes the Mayo Clinic. Squatting, running and other movements cause friction between the cartilage and the joint surface or other soft tissues around your knees, resulting in crepitus. Knee bending activities, such as stair climbing and rising from a chair, are more likely to cause clicking and cracking in the knees.

Read more: 9 Exercises That Can Hurt Your Knees (And How to Modify Them)

If you experience crepitus without pain and other symptoms, you have nothing to worry about. The Mayo Clinic recommends strengthening the quadriceps muscle to take some of the pressure off your patellofemoral joint and prevent potential issues. However, it's important to see a doctor if you notice additional symptoms, such as knee pain, stiffness or inflammation. These issues may indicate an injury or medical condition.

According to a review published in Clinics in Orthopedic Surgery in March 2018, noise around the knee may result from damage to the meniscus or ligaments, as well as osteoarthritis, patellofemoral instability and other conditions. Infrapatellar plica, a common knee condition, causes popping or snapping in more than 70 percent of patients. Sometimes, these noises occur when tiny bubbles form in the synovial fluid and burst when the knee joint moves.

Clicking in the knees, for instance, is often due to meniscus tears. This injury affects the two pieces of cartilage that cushion your knee joint, causing pain, swelling, locking of the knee and limited range. It's common among athletes and can occur suddenly during sports, explains the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

Supplements for Clicking Joints

Glucosamine, chondroitin and other dietary supplements promote joint health and may reduce cartilage loss. Their efficacy is subject to debate, though.

For example, a review published in Cochrane in January 2015 suggests that if you have cracking joints, remedy them with chondroitin. This supplement may offer temporary pain relief for people with osteoarthritis. Some studies indicate that it may also slow down the narrowing of joint space. However, most clinical trials were funded by private organizations and thus, their findings may be biased.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that there is little evidence to support the use of glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. These products may work to some extent, but their effects are negligible.

Read more: 43 Supplements Exposed: Which Ones to Consider, Which Ones to Avoid

Fish oil, one of the most popular supplements for joint pain and stiffness, might be a better option, although the research is mixed. According to a research paper featured in Nutrients in January 2017, this product may reduce arthritis pain. It appears to be somewhat effective for people with rheumatoid arthritis, but not for those with osteoarthritis.

A small study published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand in April 2015 indicates that fish oil may significantly improve knee performance. The study was conducted on subjects with mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, this supplement may reduce inflammation, stiffness, joint pain and other symptoms associated with arthritic conditions.

Other supplements for joint pain and stiffness include MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), turmeric and cat's claw. Again, most studies are conflicting, and these products won't necessarily stop your knees from cracking.

If you're concerned about the noises that come from your knee, your best bet is to see a doctor. They may conduct further tests to find out the cause of your problem and recommend an appropriate treatment.

Stretch and Strengthen Your Quads

Physiological noise in the knee, such as cracking or popping sounds when squatting, is usually harmless, according to the Clinics in Orthopedic Surgery review. Researchers recommend stretching and strengthening exercises, such as side steps with a resistance band and hip flexor stretches. Focus on movements targeting the quads, especially the vastus medialis obliquus, a small quadriceps muscle located just above the knee.

Read more: Bad Knees? Try These 14 Knee-Strengthening Exercises

Having strong quads may improve knee function and protect against cartilage damage. A study featured in the The Journal of Rheumatology in February 2019 indicates that quadriceps weakness can significantly increase the risk of knee cartilage loss in the long run. The quadriceps muscles support your knees and help them absorb shock more effectively, which is why it's important to keep them strong.

The AAOS also recommends performing exercises that strengthen the hamstrings, adductors, abductors and glutes. Warm up for five to 10 minutes before getting started, stretch your muscles for a few minutes and then move on to strength exercises. Here are some simple movements you can try at home:

Move 1: Standing Quadriceps Stretch

  1. Stand in front of a chair or wall. Place your right hand on it for support.
  2. Bring your left heel toward your buttock by bending your knee.
  3. Grasp your ankle with your left hand and pull gently. Keep your back straight.
  4. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to one minute, then lower your leg back.
  5. Repeat on the other side. Perform two or three repetitions for each leg.

Move 2: Knee to Chest

  1. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and your legs extended.
  2. Bring your right knee to your chest and grasp it with both hands.
  3. Hold the contraction for 30 seconds, as recommended by Great Western Hospitals.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. Perform five reps on each side.

Move 3: Partial Squats

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Extend your arms in front of you or rest them on your thighs. Keep your back straight and your chest up.
  3. Slowly lower your hips as if you are sitting down on a chair.
  4. Hold for five seconds and return to the starting position by pushing through your heels, as illustrated by the AAOS.
  5. Perform three sets of 10 reps.

Tip

Use hand weights for a more challenging workout. Increase the weight gradually as you get stronger.

Swimming, walking, cycling and other activities can also help strengthen the quads. High-impact exercises, such as running and jogging, put stress on your knees, so it's better to avoid them for a while.

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