Pain in the Knee & Occasional Popping When Walking

Scan of a human knee
An x-ray may be necessary to assess your knee pain. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

The knee is a complex joint made up of bone, cartilage, ligaments and other soft tissues. Because of its involvement in walking, and wear and tear sustained in intense athletic activities, the knee is prone to injury. Pain in the knee with occasional popping when walking may be a sign of soft tissue injury or fracture. If you are experiencing these symptoms, be sure to have your doctor properly assess your knee.

Osteoarthritis

The source of your knee pain and popping when walking may be related to osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the wear-and-tear breakdown of cartilage in your knee joint that may cause small bone spurs to form inside the joint. When the bone spurs rub together when walking, they may cause pain and occasional cracking and popping. An x-ray can help assess the development of bone spurs in the knee. Most treatments are conservative, but in severe cases a knee replacement may be necessary.

Meniscal Tear

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, or AAOS, a meniscus tear is among the most common knee injuries. Your meniscus is the cartilage in your knee between your thigh bone and shin bone that acts as a shock absorber when you walk. Most meniscal tears occur when playing a sport; however, older people may develop a degenerative meniscal tear. This type of knee injury can cause significant pain in the knee associated with popping and locking when walking. An MRI is often needed to diagnose a meniscal tear.

Chondromalacia Patella

Chondromalacia patella, or patellofemoral joint syndrome, may cause popping and knee pain when walking. Chondromalacia patella is the abnormal alignment of the patella in the knee. This causes the back of the patella to irritate soft tissues and bones in the knee. Damage to these structures may lead to pain and popping in the knee. In this case, rest, reconditioning, physical therapy are conservative treatments that may improve symptoms. In severe cases, surgical realignment of the patella may be necessary.

Patellar Fracture

If you recently had a fall on your knee or receive a direct blow to the knee, you may have fractured your patella, or kneecap. A patellar fracture will cause severe knee pain, and the bone fragments may occasionally pop when walking. If you suspect a patellar fracture, you should not hesitate to seek emergency treatment. In most cases, you doctor will apply a cast to the knee if the bones are not displaced. However, if the bones are pulled apart, or displaced, you may need surgery to repair your kneecap.

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