Crepitus, sometimes referred to as crepitation, is the grinding, creaking, cracking, grating, crunching, or popping sounds that often takes place when moving a joint. The sound may be loud or soft but this is not indicative of the degree of pathology. Most people have experienced crepitation as this can happen at any age, however it becomes more common as people get older. For something that's obviously quite common, what exactly is happening to make these sounds?

Gas can build up in areas of the body in which it surrounds a joint and this allows tiny bubbles to form in the synovial fluid. The knee is the most common area in which this occurs. Most of us have experienced a knee making a popping, cracking or snapping sound and when this happens some of those tiny bubbles burst and ligaments make those sounds. In fact, the cracking is the sound of gas being released from the joint, an action called cavitation.
Crepitus can also occur as a result of damaged cartilage and bone caused by arthritis. Injuries can also be the antecedent to crepitus developing.

Crepitus in the Knee

As mentioned above, crepitus in the knee is quite common and for the most part, painless; it is very much a part of who we are. However, when pain accompanies this popping sound then it may indicate there could be a problem.
Knee crepitus is a common symptom of osteoarthritis. It may also be a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis. However, if you have ever experienced a knee injury this may be the antecedent of painful crepitus.

Cracking sounds may also occur when cartilage rubs on the joint surface when the knee joint is in motion. This usually occurs when the cartilage is thin and worn out.

Knee injuries such as meniscus tears are somewhat common among those who run, jog or play sports that require a lot of knee use. A meniscus tear can cause crepitus.

If an individual has scar tissue or a tendon passing over a protuberant bony fragment this many also cause the knee to make cracking sounds. In these and all scenarios listed above, crepitus may be more frequently experienced while climbing staircase, or after sitting for a prolonged time with the knees crossed.

Sometimes a person may hear a grating sound accompanied with pain when their knee is moved. This is not crepitus, in more cases than not this is when an individual has a condition known as patellofemoral pain syndrome; this is also referred to as “runner's knee”.

Crepitus and Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is quite common in Canada and this type of arthritis is often referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis. Although the knees are commonly affected, this type of arthritis also affects weight-bearing joints such as the ankles and hips.

Mechanical stress slowly breaks down the cartilage that cushions the knee which in turn causes inflammation and pain. When crepitus is accompanied by pain, it’s usually caused by osteoarthritis.

Knowing that osteoarthritis and other inflammation conditions are so common it is really important that we all focus on prevention. If you are an individual who has crepitus, even though it does not cause pain, then trying to avert this normal condition transforming into a problem later in life is important.

Some people are not sure if they have arthritis in the knee. If crepitus is causing you a lot of pain this is one possible symptom. If there is pain while walking, occasional swelling of the knee, or stiffness then this is another warning.

The most common initial location of arthritis in the knee is on the inside of the knee. Seeking chiropractic assistance can help you with a proper diagnosis.

If crepitus is not causing you pain then prevention is important. To help prevent this (or lessen it) here are some helpful tips:

  • Exercise,
  • Lose excess weight,
  • Eat healthy avoiding as much sugar as possible,
  • Massage,
  • Safe topical pain remedies,
  • Chiropractic care.

Treatment of Painful Knee Crepitus

As mentioned earlier, cracking and popping sounds with no associated pain should not cause you to worry. Be sure to engage in conditioning exercises to help strengthen the muscles and joint. If there is associated pain with these sounds then be sure to seek help from a qualified health professional.

For more information about crepitus and how chiropractic care can help if it is causing you pain please give Chiro-Med a call. Established in 2007 by Dr. Behfar Sanjari, Chiro-Med Rehab Centre has been committed to providing quality health care services to the Greater Toronto Area for a decade. We have clinics located in Richmond Hill and Newmarket, call 905-918-0419 or 905-235-2620 for more information.

September 2, 2017

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