You feel and hear it as soon as you stand up. The annoying cracking sound and the instant reminder of an inflamed knee yet to come. Then you decide to walk down a few steps, and there goes a popping sound. So what exactly is happening?
“Often it’s just the fluid that coats your joints being pushed through certain ranges of motion–and is totally benign,” explained Benjamin Butts, the regional director of Interstate Rehab in Buena Park, California. But oftentimes the constant cracking followed by consistent pain can be a sign that something is wrong.
What’s the cause? Usually, it’s tight or misaligned muscles that will pull the kneecap out of alignment, mentioned David Reavy, director of React Physical Therapy in Chicago, Illinois. Over time, that imbalance can cause clicking or popping, which can be a serious problem, said Butts, “because the cartilage can become worn down and potentially lead to early onset arthritis, as well as many issues involved with deterioration of the joint.”
To ease tension, reduce awkward noises, and keep potential injuries at bay, give these exercises a try, courtesy of Eun Jung Decker at React Physical Therapy, three times a week for maximum results.
To get started, you will need a few pieces of equipment for these exercises, including a small massage ball for the calf release. Some people prefer to use lacrosse balls instead of a massage ball because they are more firm. Large massage balls are ideal for the hip flexor release.
6. Calf Release
Self-myofascial release is a technique used to help relieve muscle tension and tightness through pressure applied directly to the muscle. Stretching, on the other hand, tends to simply elongate the muscle. “Releasing allows you to activate tight muscles that are shifting the balance of your muscle structure,” said Reavy. Try using this technique to release tight calf muscles and get your kneecap aligned.
- Sit with your calf on top of a lacrosse or massage ball.
- Stack your other leg on top of it, and roll yourself up and down over the ball.
- Once you find a spot that’s tender, stop and point your foot up and down for 30 seconds.
- Repeat as needed.
5. Hip Flexor Release
“Knee pain is often caused by a misaligned hip,” Reavy said. He recommends a hip flexor release to combat this issue.
- Lie on your stomach and place a 5-inch massage ball just below your hip bone.
- Lean a tolerable amount of weight onto the ball.
- Bend the knee on the side of the release to a 90-degree angle and swing your leg side to side as far as you can.
- Repeat as needed in 30-second to 2-minute intervals.