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What is Crepitus?

Crepitus represents the entire range of sounds that can come from under the skin and often time from the joints, whether we are talking about grating, crackling or popping. Crepitus is often accompanied by a moving or crackling sensation and it can also appear in the soft tissues, being caused by the abnormal presence of air in that tissue. It is important to understand that the air has penetrated an area where it should not normally be and that the sounds can come from the abnormal interaction between air, different types of fluid and one.

Affecting the joints in particular, crepitus can be of different types. It is known as bone crepitus when a person can hear and feel fracture fragments moving against each other, as joint crepitus when the sounds appear with the passive movement of the affected joint and as bursitis crepitus when there are loose particles in the bursa fluid. One can also encounter tenosynovitis crepitus and crepitus around the lungs, both being a sign of different pathologies. In the many situations of joint crepitus, the direct cause is inflammatory arthritis but different joint injuries can lead to its appearance as well.

Knee Crepitus

Symptoms of Knee Crepitus

These are the most common symptoms of knee crepitus:

  • Pain, exacerbated by walking
  • Occasional swelling
  • Joint stiffness
  • Soft sounds with the passive movement of the knee, accompanied by a crackling sensation when the knee is touched
  • The flexion and extension of the knee lead to an uncomfortable grating sensation.

Causes of Knee Crepitus

Normally, air can build up in the area surrounding the joint, with tiny bubbles being found in the synovial fluid. When the knee is bent or extended, these bubbles can burst and crackling sounds can appear. However, there are certain medical pathologies in which knee crepitus can appear. These are:

  • Inflammatory osteoarthritis, accompanied by damage to the cartilage and bone
  • Knee joint injuries
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Infectious arthritis
  • Traumatic tear of the meniscus (knee cartilage)
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome – this appears in cases when the knee has been strained or more seriously injured, the patient experiencing a dull ache behind the knee cap.


These are the most common treatments for knee crepitus:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs for pain and inflammation
  • Ice pack application can reduce swelling
  • Braces are recommended to guarantee knee support
  • Physical therapy programs are meant to strengthen muscles around the knee, reducing stiffness and increasing the mobility
  • Surgery for joint replacement
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can help in case of arthritis

Crepitus in Neck

There are many situations, especially when we wake up in the morning and we hear certain sounds from our necks as we try to stretch. However, the crackling sounds in the neck can not only appear from stretching or forcefully popping our necks, but they can also be a sign of a medical problem. Plus, as they are close to the ears, you can hear them infinitely better than if it were, let’s say, the knee. This can have a serious effect on your quality of life, that is guaranteed.

Often times, the crepitus in neck is caused by degenerative joints or osteoarthritis as it is also known. Aside from the crackling sounds, you will also suffer from joint stiffness and pain. In order to prevent such upsetting symptoms, it might be for the best of use a neck brace for support and have a gentle massage that not only will relieve the pain but it will also increase your range of motion. The tension release massage is recommended as well as physical therapy, with gentle passive stretching exercise.

Crepitus in Shoulder

This is a condition affecting people who do a lot of office work and especially at the computer. The moment they roll their shoulders back, they will hear different types of sounds, including popping, clicking or cracking in the shoulder area. The symptoms might subside on their own but if they are accompanied by stiffness and pain, then a clear diagnosis and treatment will be more than necessary. The cracking sounds come from the shoulder joint and often times the main culprit is arthritis. In some situations, the sounds can come from the air that has built up in the joint area and this does not require any particular treatment.

Once the cause of the crepitus in shoulder has been identified, the next step will be to receive the proper treatment. Anti-inflammatory medication can help with the pain and the inflammation and it will allow you to pursue physical therapy. This will be perfect for strengthening the rotators cuff muscles, increasing your range of motion at the same time.

Crepitus in Joints

When a joint is not healthy anymore, because of various medical reasons or previous injuries, you will hear a wide range of sounds coming from it. These may resemble cracking, popping or even clicking and they will most often be accompanied by a wide range of symptoms, including pain, stiffness and limited range of movement. Identifying the exact cause that has led to the appearance of crepitus in joints is important, as it will allow the doctor to pursue the right course of treatment.

If the crepitus in joints is caused by a meniscus tear for example, then the next step will be arthroscopic surgery in order to repair and perhaps even replace that meniscus. After the surgery, physical therapy will be recommended as well. If the crepitus is caused by osteoarthritis, then you will be given anti-inflammatory medication for the symptoms and chondroitin supplements in order to repair that joint (what it can still be repaired). And, in case of crepitus caused by bursitis, the liquid will be extracted with a syringe and the fragments of joint will reabsorb themselves. If that does not happen, then you will also have to undergo arthroscopic surgery, for the removal of those tiny fragments.

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