Crepitus, otherwise known as joint popping or cracking, can cause a significant amount of concern. While it isn’t always an indicator of something serious, there are some cases where crepitus can indicate another condition.
In this blog post, we’ll cover the causes and treatments for joint popping so that you have all the information on hand to make informed decisions about whether you need treatment or not.
If you would like to discuss crepitus or any other conditions that are affecting you, book an appointment at OrthoNeuro. Our orthopedic surgeons are serving people throughout Columbus, Ohio.
Crepitus is a general term for joint popping, crunching, crackling, and other noises originating in the body that are either heard or felt. While this term can be associated with various conditions, this article will focus on crepitus associated with joints.
In this context, crepitus is a common condition where cracking, grinding, or popping noises are heard while moving a joint, such as bending at the knees. It can be heard either during normal movement or be induced by popping one’s knuckles. These noises can be heard in every joint of the body, from the ankle to the temporomandibular joint.
In most cases, the causes of crepitus are nothing to worry about. The sounds can be due to the accumulation of tiny air bubbles accumulating in the soft tissues of joints. These bubbles then pop when the joint is moved. After this pop, there might be a sensation of a decrease in tension in that joint.
Pops and other noises can also happen when the ligaments or tendons associated with a joint move over bone. Noises are also normal to hear after surgeries or in patients with hypermobile joints.
Certain pathological conditions are known to have joint crepitus as a symptom, where popping and other sounds are a result of the disease process. In these cases, other accompanying symptoms can help to pinpoint the cause of the issue.
It is important to take note if these noises began happening around the same time an injury occurred. This would indicate a mechanical injury is the cause. Noise following traumatic injuries will likely be localized near the site of injury.
Crepitus occurring with pain behind the kneecap can indicate Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome. This condition often occurs due to overuse injuries and is more commonly seen in women and athletes.
Pain in the knee that accompanies noises may also be due to injuries to the meniscus. This is a small disc of cartilage sitting between your tibia and femur.
Crepitus and pain in joints may also appear in situations where there is no clear instance or history of injury. In this situation, the cause could be an autoimmune issue or some other disease process.
Cartilage breakdown, as seen in conditions like arthritis, will lead to these grinding and popping noises as joint surfaces begin to rub together. Rheumatoid arthritis is the result of an autoimmune dysfunction, while osteoarthritis is the result of long-term wear and tear of cartilage that occurs with age.
A common misconception is that cracking your own knuckles will lead to arthritis. While this is not the case, a study has shown that habitual knuckle crackers can develop reduced grip strength compared to non-habitual knuckle crackers.
In general, conditions which lead to joint inflammation have the potential to have joint crepitus as a symptom.
In the absence of pain or underlying conditions, this condition likely does not need to be treated.
Stretching may help to reduce noise when tight ligaments are causing the noise. Strengthening of muscles associated with the joint is also important. Pathological noises need to be treated according to the underlying cause. The most important signs of a more serious underlying issue behind the noise are if there is swelling, pain, or instability in the joint.
Initial management will utilize methods such as RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation – to reduce inflammation and swelling. Anti-inflammatory medications may be used when appropriate.
In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, a class of medications called DMARDS may be used to treat the condition.
If conservative measures at managing the noise and condition ultimately fail, surgery can be considered to correct the problem. Some possibilities for this range from arthroscopy to joint replacement.
Book an appointment with OrthoNeuro today! Our orthopedic surgeons can provide an accurate diagnosis of symptoms along with a tailored treatment plan to help address any issues. We can be found throughout Columbus, Ohio. Contact us now!
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MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Crepitus of the knee: Structure, causes, and protection.
Medical NewsToday. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/310547#managing_crepitus
Song SJ, Park CH, Liang H, Kim SJ. Noise around the Knee. Clin Orthop Surg. 2018 Mar;10(1):1-8. Doi: 10.4055/cios.2018.10.1.1. Epub 2018 Feb 27. PMID: 29564040; PMCID: PMC5851845.
Medically Reviewed by Nick Cheney, DO
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