Why Do My Knees Sound Like Rice Krispies? Causes + Treatments

Unravelling the Mystery Behind Knee Noises

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Have you ever been moving about your day, perhaps bending or squatting down, and found yourself asking, “Why do my knees sound like Rice Krispies?“

Noisy knees sounding like Rice Krispies is a common description for creaky knees, crunchy knees, or knees cracking.

Much like the mascots of the popular Rice Krispies breakfast cereal snap, crackle, and pop, some individuals have knees that produce similar popping, crunching, or snapping sensations.

Knee clicking or popping is quite normal and is often associated with the movement of soft tissues around the knee joint, such as tendons or ligaments moving over bony structures.

In this article, we will discuss the underlying causes of crunchy knees, creaky knees, or knee cracks when bending, squatting, walking, or moving, whether knee crunching is concerning, and how to prevent your knees from cracking.

A person holding their knee.

Why Do My Knees Sound Like Rice Krispies?

When people describe their knees sounding or feeling like there are Rice Krispies in them, they are referring to an audible or palpable popping sound, cracking sound, snapping, or creaking when they get up, bend their knees, climb or descend stairs, walk, run, jump, etc.

Although we use layman’s terms like crunchy knees or creaky knees, the medical condition that people often describe when experiencing this phenomenon is called knee crepitus.

Occasional knee popping can also occur when the kneecap snaps in and out of its groove based on the way that the patellar tendon and quadriceps muscles are pulling on the embedded patella (the kneecap).

However, if you have a chronic feeling of crunchy knees, grinding knees, or Rice Krispies knees, it’s more likely a case of knee crepitus.

A person holding their knee.

What Is Knee Crepitus, And Is it Associated With Knee Pain?

It should first be noted that knee popping, often likened to the sound of Rice Krispies crackling, is a common occurrence observed in healthy adults and runners without knee problems.

While it may initially sound alarming, knee popping is typically normal and doesn’t necessarily indicate an underlying issue.

However, when accompanied by a painful grinding or crunching sensation during knee movement, it may suggest the presence of knee crepitus.

Knee crepitus can sometimes serve as an early sign of developing knee osteoarthritis, particularly behind the kneecap, where it interacts with the thigh bone (femur) and shin bone (tibia).1Pazzinatto, M. F., de Oliveira Silva, D., Azevedo, F. M. de, & Pappas, E. (2018). Knee crepitus is not associated with the occurrence of total knee replacement in knee osteoarthritis – a longitudinal study with data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bjpt.2018.09.009

Knee osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition resulting from wear and tear on the knee joint over time.

Patellofemoral dysfunction, which involves improper tracking of the kneecap along its groove, is a primary cause of knee crepitus. This dysfunction can occur due to various factors, including muscle imbalances in the hips and quadriceps.

The kneecap, or patella, is embedded in a thick tendon that connects the quadriceps muscles to the tibia. It moves within a groove on the femur as the knee bends and straightens.

However, if the cartilage within this groove wears down, as seen in knee osteoarthritis, the patella’s movement may become compromised, resulting in a popping or grinding sensation.

Muscle imbalances, particularly between the vastus lateralis and vastus medialis muscles of the quadriceps, can also contribute to patellar tracking issues.

These imbalances may cause the kneecap to deviate from its intended path during leg movement, leading to conditions like runner’s knee (chondromalacia patella) and potentially accelerating cartilage breakdown.

While knee popping itself may not be cause for concern, individuals experiencing persistent pain or discomfort should consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and management. Addressing muscle imbalances through physical therapy or making lifestyle

A doctor holding a patient's knee.

Is It Bad If My Knees Sound Like Rice Krispies?

Occasional crackling knees or knee creaking when bending and squatting is normal and is generally not a cause for concern, particularly if the sensation is not accompanied by pain or discomfort.

However, if your crunchy knees seem to be developing into a chronic condition rather than an occasional problem, it is imperative to consider seeing a physical therapist.

As mentioned, patellar malalignment can progress to knee osteoarthritis.

If you are experiencing any type of pain with your crunchy knees or creaky knees, you should speak with your doctor or physical therapist before the knee crepitus worsens and becomes full-blown knee osteoarthritis.

Knee osteoarthritis is degenerative, so it will typically not heal on its own.

There are pain management strategies such as strengthening the surrounding muscles to reduce the forces on the knee joint, as well as injections of synthetic synovial fluid to help lubricate the joint. 

Minor arthroscopic surgery, called debridement, can also help clean up any frayed cartilage to smooth rough edges and promote better gliding of the kneecap in the knee joint. 

In some cases, the end result treatment for severe knee osteoarthritis is a total knee arthroplasty2Conrad, D. N., & Dennis, D. A. (2014). Patellofemoral Crepitus after Total Knee Arthroplasty: Etiology and Preventive Measures. Clinics in Orthopedic Surgery6(1), 9. https://doi.org/10.4055/cios.2014.6.1.9, which is the technical term for a knee replacement surgery.

A physical therapist helping a patient with their knee.

How To Stop Knees Cracking and Popping

Depending on the cause of the crepitus, it may or may not be possible to do much to stop your knees from sounding like there are Rice Krispies in your knee joint.

Common Causes Of Knee Crepitus

As a quick summary, some of the common causes of knee crepitus include the following:

A physical therapist helping a patient with their knee.

Here are some of the potential treatment strategies for knee popping, crunching, and crackling:

  • Physical therapy to help correct muscle imbalances that are leading to patellar tracking issues or prior injuries.
  • Synthetic synovial fluid injections or surgery to deal with knee osteoarthritis.
  • Consistent, periodic stretching, walking around, and bending and straightening your knee to move knee joint fluid around and pop gas bubbles within the knee joint capsule.
  • Weight management in cases where excess body weight is causing additional stress on your knee joint.
  • Low-impact exercise such as swimming, elliptical machine, indoor cycling workouts, outdoor biking, incline walking, tai chi, deep water running, and rowing to help strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee joint, improve your fitness, and support healthy weight management, all while decreasing impact stress and compression on the knee joint with high-impact exercises like running, jumping, jump roping, and plyometrics.
  • Prescription anti-inflammatories, if recommended by your doctor.
  • Following an anti-inflammatory diet with foods like fatty fish, omega-3 fish oil supplements, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, tart cherry juice, turmeric or curcumin supplements, and fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants.
  • Working with a personal trainer or fitness professional to improve your exercise form and technique, particularly for exercises that load the knee, such as squats, lunges, box jumps, and other foundational strength training movement patterns.
  • Improving your running form if you are a habitual runner and running is exacerbating knee clicking and popping.
  • Wearing supportive footwear at all times.
  • Warm up before running!

To learn more about common knee injuries, check out our guide about knee injuries from running here.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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