Crunching sound in the knee with pain: What’s causing it and how PT can help address it

crunching sound in knee with pain

A crunching sound in your knee that is accompanied by pain can be a disconcerting experience. While it might not always be a cause for immediate concern, it is essential to understand the potential reasons behind this discomfort. The underlying cause can affect the possible effective treatments. Regardless of the underlying issue, physical therapy may be a beneficial treatment option. It is intended to help address knee issues and can help alleviate pain and improve joint function.

Common issues that can cause knee crunching and pain

Before treatments can be recommended, it is essential to determine the underlying issue causing you to experience crunching and knee pain. Potential causes can include:

  • Osteoarthritis — Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition that affects nearly 365 million people. It can result in the wearing down of the cartilage in the knee. This degeneration can lead to pain, inflammation, and a grinding sensation when moving the knee.
  • Meniscus tears — The meniscus is cartilage that helps cushion the knee joint. When this cartilage tears in the knee, it can cause pain and a clicking, crunching or popping sensation.
  • Ligament injuries — Injuries to your knee’s ligaments, like the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or medial collateral ligament (MCL), can lead to instability in your knee. They can also cause a crunching sound during movement. ACL injuries affect anywhere between 100,000 to 200,000 Americans each year.
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome — Patellofemoral pain syndrome, also known as “runner’s knee,” can result in pain around or behind the kneecap. This pain can be exacerbated by activities like running or climbing stairs. It is one of the most common causes of knee pain.
  • Chondromalacia patella — Chondromalacia patella is a condition that involves the softening and breakdown of the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap. This condition can cause pain, grinding and crunching sounds.
  • Overuse or tendinitis — Repetitive stress and inflammation in the tendons around the knee can lead to pain and a sensation of crunching or popping.
  • Loose bodies — Sometimes, small fragments of bone or cartilage can break off within the knee joint. These small fragments, or loose bodies, can cause pain and an unusual sensation in the knee when moving.
  • Aging and wear and tear — As you age, the knee joint may naturally experience degeneration. This natural degeneration can lead to the development of osteoarthritis and associated symptoms. 

How can physical therapy help knee issues?

Physical therapy can be an invaluable and noninvasive treatment approach to addressing knee issues. These knee issues can be due to a crunching sound, pain or both. Physical therapy is intended for improving joint mobility, reducing pain, and enhancing your strength and stability. Before designing a custom treatment plan, your physical therapist will conduct a full evaluation that will assess your type and intensity of your knee pain and your knee’s range of mobility. After your assessment is complete, your treatment plan may include:

  • Strengthening exercises — These targeted exercises are intended to help strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee. As these muscles strengthen, they can help promote stability and provide you with pain relief.
  • Manual therapy — Hands-on techniques like soft tissue mobilization and joint mobilization can help alleviate pain. They can also help to improve joint function and reduce muscle tension you are experiencing.
  • Electrical stimulation Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units can deliver a low-level electrical current to your knee. This stimulation can help block nerve signals from the knee to your brain. This can help to provide you with pain relief. It can also help to relieve muscle spasm, encourage muscle relaxation and boost circulation. These all can help with your healing and recovery.
  • Graston Technique® The Graston Technique is employed by trained physical therapists who use specialized stainless steel instruments to find and treat soft tissue restrictions and scar tissue around the knee joint. By breaking these down, it helps to promote better tissue mobility and can alleviate knee pain.
  • Dry needlingDry needling is a technique used by certified physical therapists. They insert fine, sterile needles into specific trigger points in the affected knee muscles. It can help release muscle tension, improve circulation and reduce inflammation. It can lead to improved mobility and reduced pain. 

In addition to your in-clinic treatments, your physical therapist may recommend a regimen of heat and cold therapy to be completed at home. Heat therapy can help to increase circulation, relax muscles, and reduce pain and stiffness in your knee. Cold therapy can help to reduce inflammation and numb the area. This can provide relief from acute pain and swelling. It is important to use a barrier between the cold packs or ice and your skin, though, as prolonged exposure can damage tissue and nerves. 

A crunching sound in the knee accompanied by pain should not be ignored. It can be an indication that you have an underlying issue that requires attention. Physical therapy can offer a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to helping manage your knee pain. 

Armor PT can help you find pain relief and improved knee function

Armor Physical Therapy can help you in your journey toward pain relief and enhanced knee function. Our team of experienced physical therapists understand the challenges that the crunching sound in your knee accompanied by pain can cause. Under the guidance of our skilled and expert physical therapists, we can help you take the first steps toward a more comfortable life. Don’t let knee pain hold you back from doing the things you enjoy. We can help you alleviate your pain and work to restore your knee’s strength and mobility. 

Contact us today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.

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