Does your knee feel like it needs to pop and you can’t get the sensation to go away? What’s causing this feeling, and what can you do about it? In this guide, we explain why your knee feels like it needs to pop, if you should see a doctor about it, the five most common causes behind your knee feeling like it needs to pop, and how to get relief from this problem.
Is It Bad If My Knee Feels Like It Needs to Pop? Should I See a Doctor?
If your knee feels like it wants to pop is that a sign of a serious medical problem? Should you see a doctor about it? Fortunately, when your knee feels like it wants to pop, the cause is usually not serious. Rest and home remedies are usually enough to make the issue go away. However, there are some cases when a knee that feels like it needs to pop can indicate a more serious problem.
See a doctor if you have any of these symptoms and your knee feels like it needs to pop:
- The issue has been going on for a long time and hasn’t improved
- The issue has recently gotten worse
- You can’t complete normal movements (walking, sitting) because of your knee
- You can’t straighten your leg completely
- You recently injured your knee
- You’ve had knee surgery
- There’s significant pain or swelling
As mentioned above, it’s rare for a knee that feels like it needs to pop to be a serious medical condition. In the next section we discuss the most likely causes behind the issue.
The Top 5 Reasons Your Knee Feels Like It Wants to Pop
Below are the top five reasons your knee feels like it wants to pop, in order of most common to less common. For each one we describe what the condition is, what causes it, what common symptoms are, and how it can be treated.
Runner’s Knee (Chondromalacia Patella)
Runner’s knee is the most common cause of your knee feeling like it needs to pop. Although it is a common issue among runners, this condition can happen to anyone, especially those who exercise a lot or do work that requires frequent knee-bending.
Runner’s knee occurs when the soft cartilage under the kneecap breaks down. This cartilage helps keep the knee joint moving smoothly and also helps strengthen the knee so it can carry your body weight when you walk. Runner’s knee often causes your knee joint to become weaker and less stable. It may also prevent your knee from moving as easily as it did before, so your knee may feel like it wants to pop, or you may actually feel your knee popping into place when you move it. Over time, this issue can cause arthritis in the knee if it isn’t treated.
Common symptoms of runner’s knee include:
- Aching pain in the kneecap, especially during exercise
- Pain when walking downhill or downstairs
- Pain when bending your knee
Rest, ice, and elevation are often enough to alleviate symptoms, but if the problem is serious or doesn’t go away, your doctor may recommend physical therapy or (rarely) surgery.
A bursa is a sac of fluid that cushions bones and tendons. Your body has multiple bursae, including one under each kneecap. Bursitis of the knee (also known as Housemaid’s Knee) occurs when the bursa becomes inflamed. This may be due to overuse of the knee, especially in the kneeling position.
Common symptoms of bursitis include:
- A popping sensation or noise when kneeling or standing up
Rest, ice, and pain medication are usually enough to reduce the symptoms of bursitis, but if you feel you need more treatment, your doctor may recommend physical therapy, steroid injections, and/or aspiration (draining fluid from the knee).
Another potential cause of your knee feeling like it needs to pop is a cyst. A cyst occurs when part of the fluid in a joint is pushed into a sac of tissue. The sac bulges out, creating a cyst. Cysts in the knee are typically Baker’s Cysts, and they usually form behind the knee. These cysts may be caused by injury, arthritis, or an unknown cause.
Common symptoms of cysts include:
- A visible bump around the knee (though not always)
- Swelling behind the knee
- Slight pain behind the knee, especially when bending or straightening your leg
- Tightness or stiffness
A Baker’s cyst itself is usually not a cause for concern, and they often go away on their own. However, if the cyst is causing you pain or discomfort, you can have it drained or surgically removed.
Many people believe that arthritis is a problem only older people have, but it can occur at any age, especially if you exercise a lot, have a family history of arthritis, or have had an injury. Osteoarthritis of the knee occurs when the cartilage that cushions joints begins to wear away and the surfaces of the two bones begin to rub together. This can lead to pain, stiffness, and a knee that feels like it needs to pop as the joints move together roughly.
Common symptoms of arthritis include:
- Pain that increases when you are active
- Stiffness in the joint
- Difficulty fully extending the knee
- Warmth and swelling in the joint
- A creaking or crackling sound when you move your knee
There are numerous options for treating arthritis, some of which include physical therapy, wearing a knee brace, taking pain medication, and getting injections of steroids or hyaluronic acid into the knee.
The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is one of the four main ligaments in your knee that connects your femur bone to your tibia bone. Your ACL helps keep your knee stable. The ACL is one of the most commonly injured ligaments, and injuries can range from minor tears to the ligament tearing completely away from the bone.
ACL injuries usually happen suddenly, often when exercising or playing a sport. You will likely begin to experience pain and other symptoms right away. If you have a serious ACL injury, you probably have much more serious symptoms than a popping knee, such as severe pain and the inability to walk. However, a minor ACL injury can make your knee feel like it needs to pop because the joint isn’t properly stable.
Common symptoms of ACL injuries include:
- Feeling or hearing a pop at the time of injury
- Pain on the back and outside of knee
- Limited knee movement
- Knee feeling weak or unstable
Physical therapy can be done for minor ACL injuries, but surgery is usually required for serious injuries to the ACL.
How to Soothe Your Knee
As mentioned above, you can usually stop your knee from feeling like it needs to pop and reduce the chance of it feeling that way again by using home remedies, although a doctor’s visit and/or physical therapy may also be needed. When you have a knee that feels like it needs to pop, the best way to make it feel better isn’t by popping it (which often isn’t possible), but by reducing strain and pressure on the knee. Below are four of the best ways to get relief.
The best treatment for your knee is rest. Almost all causes of a knee that feels like it needs to pop are at least some way related to overuse of the knee. Taking a break from whatever physical activities you do that put strain on your knee may be enough to stop it feeling like it needs to pop.
If you can’t completely cut out physical activity, try wearing a knee brace to alleviate stress and take frequent breaks. If your exercise regularly, you can also try switching to a lower-impact form of exercise, such as swimming or running on an elliptical.
Ice is another way to help your knee recover, and it’s especially effective if you have pain, redness, or swelling in your knee. Ice your knee for 15 minutes at a time, at least twice a day, until the symptoms go away or are reduced.
Elevating your knee can also reduce pain and swelling and stop your knee from feeling like it needs to pop. While laying on your back, prop your foot up so your affected knee is higher than your hips. Do this for at least 1-2 hours a day if possible (it’s good to do while reading or watching TV so you have something to do) to help alleviate your symptoms.
You can also try certain exercises designed to “pop” your knee or get it to stop feeling like it needs to pop, although these aren’t guaranteed to solve the problem. One option is a quadriceps stretch, where you put one arm out in front of you for balance and use the other arm to grab the ankle of the same-side leg and lift your leg towards your buttocks. Quad muscles help in lifting the knee, so stretching them can help pop the knee or alleviate pressure on it.
Another exercise is leg lifts. For these, lie flat on your back with your unaffected leg bent up and your leg with the affected knee flat on the ground. Slowly lift your leg on the ground straight up until your thighs are parallel, hold the position for a moment, then slowly lower it to the ground. Repeat this about 20 times, stopping sooner if you feel pain or discomfort.
Conclusion: It Feels Like My Knee Needs to Pop
If your knee feels like it wants to pop, you may be worried that it’s the sign of a serious medical condition. Fortunately, the cause is usually overuse of the knee, and it often goes away with rest, although you should see a doctor if your symptoms are severe.
If your knee feels like it needs to pop, there are several common causes:
- Runner’s knee
- Baker’s cyst
- Arthritis of the knee
- ACL injury
For most of these, home remedies are enough to treat the issue, although you may need physical therapy or surgery for more severe injuries. To help soothe your knee, the most important thing is to rest it to relieve strain and pressure. You can also ice it, elevate it, and try exercises when your knee feels like it needs to pop.