Knee Popped Now Hurts

There are a number of factors which can lead to knee pain and even knee popping. Crepitus is another term used for the knee popping, which means a noisy joint due to popping, cracking or snapping of the knee. If knee popping occurs without pain, it is usually due to a gas bubble inside the joint, which occasionally bursts. It can occur due to ligaments/tendons snapping over the joints as well. These causes of knee popping are not of a major concern. However, in cases when knee popping is accompanied with pain, you should seek medical help as something more serious could be causing it.

Knee Popped, Now Hurts: Why and What to Do?

1. ACL Injury

ACL injury or anterior cruciate ligament injury is an over-stretching or tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. A tear can be partial or total. ACL injury results from a sudden twisting of the knee, deceleration of the knee, blow to the side of the knee or even from a bending of the leg too far backward. ACL injuries are characterized by an immediate swelling of the affected knee, pain as well as a popping sound.

What to Do

Treatment of an ACL injury includes rest, ice packs, compression and elevation of the affected leg. The success of the treatment depends on the severity of the injury, the level of instability as well as the lifestyle of the injured person. If conventional treatment fails to relieve the signs and symptoms, surgical treatment is necessary.

2. MCL Injury

MCL injury or a medial collateral ligament injury results in a sprain or tear of this ligament. The medial collateral ligament is a band of tissue located on the inside of the knee. It connects the thighbone with the bones of the lower leg. A sudden twisting of the leg can result in an MCL injury. Characteristic signs and symptoms include swelling of the affected knee, instability of the affected leg, pain located on the inner side of the knee, a popping sound, difficulties bending the leg, etc.

What to Do

Treatment of an MCL injury usually takes about six weeks. For the first three grades of an MCL injury, the treatment should tend to reduce the inflammation while the knee should be immobilized. Bed rest, ice packs as well as elevating the affected leg will help. Over-the-counter painkillers are recommended when dealing with the pain. Braces will allow you to move the knee backward and forwards while supporting it totally. It is usually recommended to keep the affected leg immobilized for about 72 hours. The treatment will last longer if it is a severe injury.

3. Cartilage/Meniscus Tear

If your knee popped, now hurts, one of the causes could be a meniscus tear. The meniscus is a cartilage that provides a cushion between the thighbone and the shinbone. Injuries of a different nature can cause meniscus tears. When the meniscus tears, small cartilage fragments can catch in the knee, producing the popping sounds. The cartilage fragments tend to move around the joint, leading to occasional knee pain and popping sounds on the affected knee.

What to Do

Conservative treatment should be started first, which includes bed rest, ice packs, compression and elevation of the affected knee. Pain killers, non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory medications will help you deal with the pain and reduce the inflammation. Arthroscopic surgery is the last treatment option when conservative treatment has failed to resolve the situation.

4. Arthritis

Arthritis is a degenerative wear and tear of the cartilage. It usually affects people over the age of 50 and tends to gradually develop over a long period of time. As the cartilage tends to get thinner with age, the joint surface tends to become rougher, and frictions occur between the joint bones, leading to a popping sound.

What to Do

Depending on the type of arthritis, recommended medications are analgesics, non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory medications, anti-rheumatic medications, biologic response modifiers, and corticosteroids. Physical therapy plays an important part of the arthritis treatment by strengthening the muscles around the affected knee and by saving the range of motion for as long as possible. Braces and splints are also often recommended.

5. Runner's Knee

When your knee popped, now hurts, you might have a runner’s knee. It is a medical term used to describe several conditions that cause pain around the patella. These conditions include chondromalacia patella, iliotibial band syndrome, anterior knee pain syndrome, etc. A runner’s knee tends to get worse while sitting for a long period of time or while running or walking for a long period of time. The patella tends to rub against the thighbone, leading to a grinding sensation while the knee moves.

What to Do

The RICE therapy is also recommended for the treatment of the runner’s knee. Anti-inflammatory medications will help reduce the inflammation and the swelling of the affected knee, and painkillers will help control the pain. Physical therapy plays an important part of the treatment, which includes strengthening and stretching exercises of the quadriceps muscle group. Surgical treatment is necessary in severe cases of runner’s knee.

6. Chondromalacia Patella

It is an irritation and inflammation of the cartilage lining the back of the patella. Chondromalacia patella is a condition more often among women than men. It also affects more healthy and sportive adolescents and young adults. Treatment includes resting the affected knee and avoiding a strenuous use of the knee.

What to Do

Over the counter painkillers are recommended to control the pain, physiotherapy is recommended for strengthening the muscles around the affected knee. Another available treatment which will reduce the pain is the taping of the patella. Surgery is the last treatment option, but it is not usually necessary.

When to See Your Doctor

Are you wondering whether you should seek medical help when your knee popped, now hurts? You should see a doctor when:

  • You can’t put weight on the knee.
  • You have severe pain while putting weight on it.
  • Your knee keeps giving way.
  • Your knee clicks painfully and it even locks.
  • Your knee looks deformed.
  • You can’t fully straighten or bend your knee.
  • You have swelling, pain, numbness or tingling of the calf on the affected side.
  • Your knee is red, swollen and you have a fever as well.
  • The pain doesn’t improve within a few weeks and the pain is getting worse even after a few days of rest and self-treatment at home. 
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