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Crepitus & Noisy Knees: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Crepitus & Noisy Knees

Have you ever heard a crunching or crackling in your knees? Chances are, you have crepitus. Crepitus is the medical term used to refer to any noises that result from the movement of a joint. And while occasional snapping and popping when you bend your knees is usually no cause for concern, there are instances where crepitus may be indicative of underlying conditions that require treatment.

Here are a few things you should know about crepitus, such as common causes, methods of prevention, and symptoms to keep an eye out for. If your crepitus is bothering you, or if you experience any pain or discomfort alongside crepitus, make sure you book a consultation with our physiotherapists to explore your treatment options. You can make an appointment through our online booking system or call us on 9489 7744.

What is Crepitus?

Crepitus, also known as noisy knees, joint popping or creaking joints, refers to any grating, cracking, popping noises or sensations that occur when you move a joint. Crepitus can affect a variety of joints including the hips, shoulders, neck, spine, though the majority of people experience crepitus in their knees. An example of crepitus knees would be when your knees crack or pop when you bend them.

You may be wondering, ‘should I worry about crepitus?’ The answer is, it depends. Crepitus is not typically a severe condition and, in most cases, does not require any medical attention. However, crepitus may indicate underlying conditions such as injury or arthritis, and in such instances, it is important to seek out professional advice and treatment.


What causes Crepitus?

Here are a few causes of crepitus. While some are harmless, there are also some more sinister causes that require medical treatment:

  • Gas Bubbles – Your joints are surrounded by synovial fluid, a thick viscous substance that reduces friction between cartilage and joints during movement. Overtime, gas around the joints builds up, forming small bubbles in the synovial fluid. When you move, these bubbles may burst, resulting in an audible pop. Crepitus caused by gas bubbles is normal and does not cause any damage or harm to your joints.
  • Ligament movement – As you move, your ligaments or tendons may sometimes have to pass over the bumps and lumps of your bones. As they may need to stretch slightly to make it over these bumps, they will snap back into place eventually, creating a clicking noise. Crepitus caused by ligament movement is nothing to worry about and does not signal joint damage or injury.
  • Arthritis – occurs when the cartilage in your joints breaks down over time. Cartilage serves the vital function of cushioning your joints, protecting them against friction and impact, and preventing your bones from grinding against each other. Crepitus can be caused by two types of arthritis – osteoarthritis (when mechanical and biochemical factors combine to cause deterioration of cartilage), or rheumatoid arthritis (when autoimmune disease causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissue). The loss of cartilage from arthritis causes increased friction in the joints and may result in crepitus. Arthritis is a serious condition that if left untreated can worsen and result in joint pain, loss of mobility and joint deformity.
  • Injury – injuries are another cause of crepitus knee. Common injuries such as meniscus tears, damaged kneecaps or runner’s knee, or other knee injuries caused by impact or strain, can result in crunching and grinding noises. If you have fallen and landed hard on your knees, or if you participate in any sports or physical activities that put excessive strain on your knees, crepitus may be a sign of a more serious issue.
  • Surgery – in the wake of knee surgery, the joint will change slightly in cases of minor surgeries, or completely in cases where the entire joint is replaced. Patients who have undergone knee surgery may notice that their joints are noisier after surgery. In most cases, this is just a feature of the new or modified joints and are not a cause for concern. However, it’s best to seek medical advice if the crepitus is accompanied by ongoing discomfort.

Crepitus Symptoms

Neither the popping or clicking sounds caused by gas bubbles or ligament movement should be a cause for concern as they do not cause damage and are simply the result of the body’s position and movement.

However, if you hear a grinding, rubbing, crunching or crackling sound coming from your knee, it is likely that there is damaged or deteriorated cartilage. Such variations of crepitus may be a sign of knee injury, or arthritis of the knee and can worsen if left untreated.

Another thing you should pay attention to, is if the crepitus is accompanied by any pain or inflammation. If your knees hurt or are swollen, your crepitus may be linked to an underlying condition. If this is the case, it is advised that you seek medical attention from your doctor or physiotherapist as soon as possible.

Crepitus Knee Treatment

Here are a few non-invasive treatments our physiotherapists may prescribe or recommend:

  • Diet and exercise plan – some of the best ways to prevent or improve crepitus are by looking after your diet and exercise. By maintaining a healthy weight and ensuring at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, your joints will have less weight to carry and will get enough movement to keep them healthy. Foods that contain lots of omega 3 fatty acids and collagen are also known to aid in preventing or easing the effects of crepitus and joint pain.
  • The RICE method – RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. This method may be recommended for cases of crepitus that are linked to injury, or if swelling accompanies the noise. Resting the area reduces the chance of further injury and gives the body time to recover, icing the area can numb the pain, compression keeps swelling under control and elevation of the knee can reduce swelling and pain by reducing blood flow to the area.
  • Bracing or splinting – this is another form of treatment for injury induced crepitus. Bracing and splinting the knee can help in immobilizing the area temporarily and can help the joint. This will allow the joint to heal without further injury if required.
  • Custom orthotics – custom orthotics are tailored shoe inserts that are designed to support your feet and aid in distributing weight evenly. If your crepitus is linked to excessive strain on your knees, shoe inserts can provide added support and reduce pain while helping you stay active.
  • Hands on physiotherapy – physical therapy provided by a physiotherapist can be extremely useful as it is specially designed for each patient.
  • Hot and cold therapy – if you experience inflammation alongside crepitus, applying a warm compress or cold pack to the knee can aid in reducing pain and inflammation of the joint.
  • Pain relief – over the counter medications for pain relief or swelling reduction may be advised if necessary. However, if pain worsens or over-the-counter medications are not enough, stronger pain medications may be prescribed by your doctor.

While most cases of crepitus can be eased and managed with non-invasive treatments, some patients with serious cases may require surgery. Some surgical methods that your doctor and physiotherapist may recommend include arthroscopic surgery, debridement and joint replacement.

  • Arthroscopic surgery – a surgical technique that allows doctors to diagnose and treat joint conditions without making large incisions. Arthroscopic surgery involves inserting small instruments through small incisions to access the joint.
  • Debridement – a surgical procedure to remove damaged cartilage and tissue. Typically recommended as treatment for arthritis and can help to improve mobility, stop bones from rubbing against each other and reduce pain.
  • Joint replacement – if your knee joint is severely damaged, you may require joint replacement surgery. This is involves replacing the whole joint or parts of the damaged joint with artificial implants.

At Fairfield Physiotherapy & Sports Injuries Centre, we treat crepitus and other underlying conditions including knee injuries and arthritis. If you think that your crepitus may be linked to other joint conditions, or if you are experiencing pain or swelling around your joints, it is recommended that you contact a physiotherapist and arrange a comprehensive assessment. Simply call us on 9489 7744 or book an appointment through our online booking system.

Our physiotherapists will help assess and diagnose your condition and provide personalised treatment plans to help you manage the symptoms and achieve sustainable recovery.