What Does Your Knee Pain Mean?


If you're reading this, it's likely you've felt pain or stiffness in your knees when exercising, or maybe experience ‘popping’ noises. These kinds of symptoms are quite common when it comes to your knees, but it can be concerning if you're feeling any kind of pain or discomfort during your workouts.

A few words on cracks and pops

Even if you don’t have any pain or discomfort in your knee joints, you may still have noticed the odd cracks, pops and other strange noises when exercising. 

Noisy knees are especially common when performing exercises such as squats and lunges, or other moves that involve knee extension and flexion. If you’re in the creaky squad, there's no need to worry - in most cases, noisy knees are completely harmless. All bodies are different, but typically sounds of clicking, popping, clenching, grinding or anything else of sorts, can be explained by physiological reasons such as:

Air build-up

Evidence shows that in many cases, knee cracking may be related to tiny air bubbles forming in the joints. This can happen to other joints too - for example you might have also heard your knuckles pop like this.

Tendon snap

This may sound a bit scary but isn’t necessarily harmful in nature. Ligaments and tendons around the knee joint may stretch slightly as they pass over a small bony lump and then snap back into place, causing a clicking sound in the knee. In the knee joint, this is generally caused by the biceps femoris (hamstring) tendon on the side area of the knee joint. But again – if there is no pain, bruising, or swelling you should be fine! If not make sure you get it seen too.

Other causes

So, when should you worry about noisy knees?

Knee noise is not usually a cause for concern, but make sure to see a doctor, a physiotherapist, or a sports physician if it’s paired with any pain, swelling or discomfort. These symptoms paired with popping or clicking may indicate damage to the ligaments or the meniscus, so don’t delay getting examined.
Even without any of the worrying signs, if your knee noises bother you, pay a visit to the pros for management tips specific to your situation - which might look like strengthening activities (such as steps ups, squats, and adductor work), stretches (often or hip flexors, quads, iliotibial band and calves), or other methods to help target the anatomical structures around the knee.

Let’s dive into the possible reasons for knee pain and some tips on managing it. 


Overuse generally occurs in the tendons around the knee and can present above or below the kneecap, or on the inside or outside of the knee joint. The main reason overuse injuries happen is by doing too much, too quickly. From going too hard on cardio (like cycling or running) which I have seen a lot of people suffer with post lockdown, to overdoing strength exercises without sufficient rest and conditioning, it’s quite easy to acquire an overuse injury – especially with the wrong technique.

If you suspect overuse may be the case, it's a good idea to dial back how much you are doing until the pain recedes and then slowly build activity levels back up. It is frustrating I know! But when it comes to your performance and general health and wellbeing, taking a small step back doesn’t sound too bad, does it? The key phrase here is slow progression: start slowly with days of recovery between sessions that load the knee, and only increase activity when your body is ready to handle it.

Poor technique
Bad technique when performing knee dominant exercises is another common cause of pain. If the knee is not stabilised with the right muscles working in performance with each other, then the load can be transferred to weaker muscles or to other joints. This can then cause disproportionate loading, which is a sure-fire shortcut to pain and discomfort.
The solution is putting proper form above anything else. Use a mirror, get a workout partner or qualified trainer to make sure you're performing lower body movements correctly, such as squats, lunges, leg presses or other knee dominant exercises. If this means dropping the weight to ensure perfect form and joint tracking, then don’t hesitate to go lighter.

Skipping the warmup / Muscle tightness

Skipping a warmup is a big NO! NO! There is so much more to warming up than just walking on the treadmill for 5 minutes – but that is a whole other post / video to come.
Warming up prior to your training session is super important, as it helps with:

·         Increasing the temperature in your muscles
·        Lubricating the knee joint and the surrounding structures
·         And activating the knee stabilizers

As a bonus, these movements will also strengthen the supporting structures and give you an amazing foundation for more challenging moves.

Tight muscles can cause pulling on other structures or restrict knee movement, which results in disproportionate loading of the knee joint. One good way to prevent this is to foam roll, trigger point and stretch the lower body regularly. This should be done prior to training the lower body if you tend to have achy knees in certain movements.
It’s very important to remember that even if the pain is focused in your knees, it may not be originating there. Structures around the hip, calf or hamstring can often be the cause, so don’t overlook them either.

Acute injury

If you are suddenly feeling sharp pains while performing movements, dull pain at all hours of the day, or seeing swelling or other irregularities around your knee, these are signs you may have suffered an acute injury.
In this case, the best course of action is to see a physiotherapist or sports physician straight away to obtain a prompt diagnosis and come up with a plan of action.

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