Crepitus: Definition and What it is
Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Crepitus Definition and Meaning
Crepitus is the medical term for the popping, crackling, crunching, or grinding sound that can occur when moving a joint. Crepitus can affect any joint, including the ones in the knees, neck, or hands, and can occur at any age, but it becomes more common as you get older.
Common Conditions Associated With Crepitus
While crepitus isn’t always associated with other conditions (sometimes it’s simply the result of harmless air bubbles escaping through joints), it can be connected to other joint issues.
Conditions like osteoarthritis are commonly linked to crepitus because the crackling noise can be a result of changes in the joint’s cartilage. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones (and allows them to slide over each other without friction) can change over time. As the surfaces inside the joint no longer glide as smoothly, noise — and often pain — can occur. Another condition specific to the knee, known as patellofemoral syndrome (aka runner’s knee), is associated with crepitus because it also involves cartilage changes that can lead to noise in the knee joint.
Crepitus: A Hinge Health Perspective
Most people with crepitus don’t experience any pain or discomfort, but they associate the noises with something bad or dangerous. As a result, they may modify their behaviors, assuming the cracking and grinding sounds mean something is wrong with their joints and that too much movement or activity will make their symptoms worse. But that’s usually not the case. Joints thrive on movement, which helps keep them well-lubricated (think of it like applying WD-40 to a creaky door hinge).
If you do have any pain or discomfort with crepitus or are simply irritated by it, there are things that you can do to keep the joint and surrounding muscles strong and healthy, though they might not help with or prevent crepitus directly. So while you may not be able to quiet your noisy joints completely, don’t make it the reason you limit movement. This could lead to increased stiffness and pain.
How Physical Therapy Can Help With Crepitus
Physical therapy can help manage the symptoms linked with crepitus, particularly when it’s related to conditions like arthritis. A physical therapist (PT) may use a range of treatments, including exercises to strengthen the muscles around the joint, reduce pressure on the joint itself, and improve joint mobility. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.
How Hinge Health Can Help You
If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.
The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.
Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition.
Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.
This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
Robertson, C. J., Hurley, M., & Jones, F. (2017). People’s beliefs about the meaning of crepitus in patellofemoral pain and the impact of these beliefs on their behaviour: A qualitative study. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice, 28, 59–64. doi:10.1016/j.msksp.2017.01.012
Knee Crepitus. (n.d.). Physiopedia. Retrieved from https://www.physio-pedia.com/Knee_Crepitus
Pappas, D. (2007, September 10). Knuckle Cracking Q & A. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. https://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/arthritis-news/knuckle-cracking-q-a-from/