Do you often hear a cracking noise coming from within your body? You may be having a condition called Crepitus in such case. Read on to know what is Crepitus and get more information about the disorder.

Crepitus Medical Definition

Medical researchers and doctors define Crepitus as a condition that is characterized by a crackling sound beneath the surface of the skin, in the joints or in the region surrounding the lungs.

The condition is also known by other names like Snapping Joints, Popping Joints and Creaky Joints.

Meaning of Crepitus

Crepitus comes from the word Crepitation that indicates situations that are characterized by the production of sounds due to rubbing of one surface against another.

Patellofemoral Crepitus

This is a type of Crepitus that increases the friction between the surfaces of two joint bones, the trochlear groove of the femur or lower end of the thigh bone and Patella (kneecap). This happens due to irregularity or softening of the joint surfaces.

The condition leads to a grating or grinding noise when the knee is moved. The condition in which Patellofemoral Crepitus arises is known as Patellofemoral Syndrome or Chondromalacia Patella. In normal, healthy individuals the friction between these two joint surfaces is around 20% of the friction between two ice blocks. The disorder is also commonly referred to as “Patella Femoral Crepitus”.

Knee Crepitus

It refers to a vibration or noise that arises in the region surrounding the knee joint. This particularly happens during extension or flexion of the joint of the knee. This disorder frequently develops due to a rupture of the meniscus (semilunar cartilage) or degeneration of the Patello-Femoral joint. It also arises due to benign conditions like adhesion or scarring of the joint capsule or bursa. The condition is also known as Patellar Crepitus as it affects the kneecap or Patella.

Crepitus in Neck

As the name suggests, it is a type of Crepitus that affects only the neck. The condition is marked by a nagging sensation in the neck that is accompanied by a loud crunching or cracking sound. Individuals who have Neck Crepitus are usually found to have suffered from past neck injuries or swollen soft tissues or ligaments in the neck. It is not caused by a bone condition. Anti-inflammatory medications are used for initial treatment of Crepitus Neck.

Crepitus in Shoulder

Many people hear a sharp crackling or popping sound with or without experiencing pain while moving their shoulders. This can originate due to the presence of arthritic conditions such as Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Posttraumatic Arthritis. A Rotator Cuff tear may also give rise to this disorder.

Retropatellar Crepitus

This is a form of Crepitus that affects the retro (posterior) position of the kneecap. This usually involves grinding of the joint bones or two broken bones with one another. This gives rise to popping, cracking or grating sounds beneath the joints and the skin.

Laryngeal Crepitus

This condition is characterized by the shifting of the larynx from side to side with a mild posterior pressure. This typically occurs in victims of strangulation. Even if strangulation does not result in death, high pressure on the neck can lead to the shifting of the laryngeal position.

Crepitus and Lungs

In some individuals, crackling sounds can originate from the region surrounding the lungs. This can occur due to pneumonia or any other lung condition. Crackling noises may also originate when the patient breathes but the breathing sound is almost inaudible and can be heard as very low crackling sounds with the aid of a stethoscope.

Coarse Crepitus

This is a form of Crepitus that is marked by a creaking sound coming from the joints as well as moderate inflammation and tenderness of the joints. The joint may also feel hot to touch. This condition may arise with or without the presence of arthritis or painful symptoms.

Scapular Crepitus

This disorder is caused by thickening and inflammation of tissues within the shoulder blade and the scapula. Repetitive movements are usually a reason behind inflammation. Repetition of certain shoulder movements such as while hanging objects or pitching baseballs can result in the inflammation of the joints. This disease is generally treated with the aid of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin. These nonsurgical methods are usually successful in treating this disease. However, rest, ice and occupational or physical therapy can also benefit people who are suffering from the condition.

Crepitus Causes

This condition frequently arises due to a previous trauma of the joint. A number of conditions such as joint problems or Arthritis can act as causes of Crepitus. The presence of these conditions can be indicative of joint damage or chronic disorders. However, popping or crackling sounds may also occur when air is present within the tissues of the human body. This is known as Soft Tissue Crepitus and it is a serious condition. Air inside the tissues may be present as a result of wounds or some types of bacterial infection.

Crepitus Treatment

The most appropriate treatment for Patellofemoral Syndrome is to stop or avoid all those activities that forcefully squeeze the patella against the femur. For patients suffering from Crepitus Knee treatment involves avoiding activities like

  • Climbing up and down stairs
  • Deeply bending the knee
  • Kneeling
  • Performing high impact aerobics and step-aerobics
  • Performing sports and exercises that compress the patella against the femur such as volleyball, hockey, basketball, skiing, baseball, weightlifting (squats), racquetball, tennis, football, squash, distance running and soccer. Cycling is also suspected to aggravate the symptoms of this condition.
  • Wearing high heeled shoes
  • Doing exercises such as weightlifting by sitting on the edge of a table that result in knee extension.

In some cases, elastic supports help in preventing further damage to the knee and eases tension on it. Some individuals also find it effective to apply ice packs for 15-20 minutes after exercising. Sometimes, using medicines like Advil, Aspirin or Aleve can also help get relief from pain and other discomforting symptoms.


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