When I started to barbell train with gusto seven years ago, I noticed that my knees would make a loud crackling noise when I squatted. It sounded just like milk hitting Rice Krispies.
I had never heard my knees make noises like that before, so I assumed something was terribly wrong.
“Great! I’ve given myself arthritis, and I’m only 33 years old! Maybe those articles in 1990s Reader’s Digests were right: squats are bad for your knees. I bet all the protein I’m eating is damaging my kidneys, too.”
I started to investigate more about my snap-crackle-and-popping knees to see if I should be worried.
To my relief, I discovered that I don’t have arthritic knees. Crackling noises when you squat are common and typically innocuous. (Too much protein doesn’t hurt your kidneys, either.)
If your knees have been emitting Pop Rocks-esque noises when you squat and you’ve been concerned about it, read on to set your worries at ease.
Why Do Your Knees Crackle When You Squat?
While it’s alarming to hear your knees crackle and pop when you squat, it’s likely just air bubbles being released as you bend your knee joints.
This phenomenon is called crepitus.
Air builds up in the joints, and when it’s released, it makes a crackling or popping noise.
You can experience crepitus in any joint in your body.
When you pop your knuckles before a fight, the noise you hear is crepitus. You’re just letting the air bubbles out of your knuckle joints.
Think of crepitus as friendly little skeletal burps.
Is It Bad to Have the Crepitus?
Now you might be thinking: “‘Crepitus’ sounds an awful lot like ‘decrepit.’ So does having crepitus mean I’m on the path to becoming a decrepit old man?”
As long as you don’t experience pain along with your knee crackles, crepitus isn’t a problem.
Again, it’s likely just air bubbles leaving your knee joints.
If you experience pain along with the crackling noises in your knees, then you should get that checked out. It could be a tendon issue, or the bones in your knees are grinding against each other. Don’t ignore pain! Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.
Can You Reduce the Crepitus Noise When You Squat?
While crackling knee noises are likely benign, they can be a little weird and annoying. So is there anything you can do to reduce the crepitus noise when you squat?
I’ve noticed that my crepitus is loudest when I first start my warm-up squats. The crackling reduces as I progress through the warm-up and into my working sets. When I get to my final working set, my knees are no longer crackling. I guess I get all the air out after so many reps. I also think warming up the tissues around the knees helps reduce the crepitus noises.
You can also wear knee sleeves. Not only do they provide support around your knees while you squat, but they also keep your joints nice and warm, which can help reduce their crackling. Plus, having a piece of thick synthetic fabric around your knees helps muffle the sound of their crackles and pops.
Bottom line: If your knees sound like Rice Krispies when you squat, you likely have nothing to worry about. It doesn’t mean you’re getting old and decrepit and will need rheumatism ointment like Uncle Wiggily. But, do watch out for that wily Woozie Wolf.