Knee Pain, Popping Or Clicking? Good News…

If you suffer from knee pain, there is some good news in that it could take a few simple exercises to get your knees back on track.  This video demonstrates the standing terminal knee extension, but you can find out if this exercise may help your condition by going through the steps as outlined below.

Knee popping is caused by the knee cap being misaligned in the joint, so it doesn’t track correctly.  In a nutshell, the quadriceps are a group of four muscles.  Knee popping can be due to a pair of them fighting over your knee cap: the vastus lateralis (on the outer side of the thigh) and the vastus medialis (on the inside part).

They connect to the knee cap on each side.  However, problems can arise when one of these muscles becomes stronger than the other, usually the the lastus lateralis.  This can result in the knee cap being pulled too far over to the outside of the leg and unable to slide correctly in its trochlear groove, thus the popping or clicking can be felt and heard.

Vastus medialisTry this technique to see if this is the cause of your knee pain

It only works if one of your knees are popping.

  • Sit on the floor with your legs outstretched, toes pointing towards the ceiling.
  • Relax against a wall/sofa and completely relax your legs, especially your quadriceps.
  • Take hold of your “good” knee cap and gently wiggle it from side to side.
  • Repeat with the “popping” knee cap and take note of how much play it has compared to your “good” knee cap.

If it moves more than the “good” knee cap, you may have diagnosed your problem.  However, if there is no difference, it might be a good idea to try the corrective exercises anyway, for a few days to see if you feel any improvement.

If both the knees are popping, I would still try the exercises.

Corrective exercises

This may only take a week or so but it can be very effective long term.  As it is likely that the vastus medialis is the weaker of the two muscles in question, it needs to be strengthened with some exercises so it can do its job of keeping the knee cap in its groove while in motion.

Exercise 1

I like to use the standing terminal knee extension (see video above for instruction) as a rule when strengthening this muscle, but here is an alternative that be done at home:

  • Support your back against a wall/sofa.
  • Point your toes towards the ceiling.
  • On the popping knee leg, contract your quadriceps.
  • It helps if you press your vastus medialis with your fingertips before each contraction.  This effectively “wakes up ” the muscle.
  • Contract your quadriceps and hold it for 5 – 10 seconds (start low then build it up if 10 seconds is too much to begin with) then relax for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat the flex 10 times per day until you see some improvement (around 10 – 21 days).

This simple exercise will give the vastus medialis a good workout as the most effort is required from it in the first and last 10 degrees of knee flexion.  This is when the leg is fairly straight and the knee is flexed so it touches your glutes.

Exercise 2

Strong hamstrings are an effective prevention to knee popping, as they are an important factor to keeping your knees healthy:

Try the Supine Bridge as demonstrated above, about 3-4 times per week for between 10 and 20 reps.  You will probably have to keep doing these exercises over time to ensure that the knee popping is kept at bay.

Knee pain can be easy to solve if a weak muscle is involved, but if you see no results from within 20 days or so, please visit your GP as it could be something else such as Iliotibial Band Syndrome for instance.

Post Author: Max

Massimo (Max) Vencato holds a doctorate (PhD) in Sports and Exercise Psychology and a Degree in Sports Sciences (first class with honours). He works today as a cardiac rehabilitation trainer, personal trainer (specialising in weight loss) and lecturer in Sports and Exercise Psychology at Brunel University London.

1 thought on “Knee Pain, Popping Or Clicking? Good News…


    (April 8, 2013 - 5:26 pm)

    thank you for the great info on this subject. I have a knee that crackles when I get up from the couch. Although I am knock kneed which leads me to believe it is my medial is that is dominant over the lateralis. I experience alot of tightness and cramping when surfing (mostly in cold water) of the medialis . would it just be as simple as training the laterals and and focusing on other knock knee correction exercises? thanks for any info!

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