Is It Normal For Knees To Pop And Crack?
Got “noisy” knees? If your knees or other body parts are making popping, clicking and/or cracking sounds, you probably have crepitus. Crepitus is simply a medical term for those funny noises that your joints make when you move them. While crepitus isn’t fully studied or understood, there’s still plenty of information about this condition and its long-term implications. If you’re experiencing crepitus, this article will be music to your ears. Let’s go over the details.
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Crepitus may not sound good, but it’s a common noise caused by certain movements or exercises. It usually affects sites including your knees, shoulders, elbows or neck. In particular, these crackling sounds frequently occur when you squat, bend down or go up and down the stairs. The sounds range in volume from inaudible to noisy, but don’t worry: just because crepitus is louder doesn’t mean your condition is worse. Crepitus is especially prevalent in elderly people as their joints wear down, athletes after an injury or patients after surgery. Sometimes changes in altitude or barometric pressure can exacerbate the popping sound, such as on flights or during sudden changes in weather.
Generally speaking, crepitus isn’t typically a concern unless accompanied by pain. If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort, you should talk to your doctor to better understand the underlying cause behind it.
What’s painless crepitus caused by?
Crepitus without pain is usually harmless. One theory behind the popping sound is that small air bubbles surround the knee tissues and combine with the synovial fluid, which lubricates the knee joint. When the knee is bent or twisted, these bubbles then burst and create a crackling sound. Think bubble wrap, where the bubbles are burst from outside pressure.
What’s painful crepitus caused by?
Crepitus with pain is another story. If your crackles and pops are accompanied by pain, the underlying cause behind them might be more serious. There’s a variety of reasons why this may happen, most of which are related to damage, inflammation or aging.
Causes related to damage and inflammation
If crepitus isn’t caused by air bubbles, it may be caused by two joints rubbing together. This means cartilage or bone can rub together in a painful way. Let’s take a look at why this happens.
Tissue damage or tears
If you have damage to your joint tissues or tears in them, crepitus can be especially painful. This occurs when there is scar tissue that catches in your knee painfully or a tear in your cartilage that moves painfully over bone. In particular, a tear in your cartilage because of an injury or accident can be really unpleasant. Runner’s knee is a common underlying issue, as cartilage under the kneecap is damaged and causes a painful grinding sensation during movement.
You’ll know if you have a tissue or tear related damage because your pain will be accompanied by swelling, stiffness, tenderness and reduced range of motion.
Sometimes crepitus is caused by inflammation-related issues. The most common reason involves sacs surrounding the joints that become swollen from infection or injury, making the sacs get trapped during movement. This is called bursitis. Another cause is tenosynovitis, where the synovial fluid around a joint becomes inflamed.
More general conditions such as tendonitis can also cause crepitus. This condition is the inflammation of a tendon, which can be extremely painful when pulled across the knee. In addition, injuries can also cause inflammation and therefore painful crepitus. If you’re an athlete with an injury or you’re recovering from knee surgery, it’s important to keep inflammation down so that your pain symptoms are reduced.
Causes related to old age
Lastly, crepitus is commonly linked to old age. The three most common underlying issues (which also relate to damage and inflammation) are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. If you’re getting older, your crepitus may be caused by more serious issues like these.
Studies now show that crepitus is an early sign of developing arthritis. In the case of osteoarthritis, the cartilage begins to wear down, which makes your bones exposed and inflamed. This rub of bone and reduced cartilage is very painful.
For rheumatoid arthritis, your joints become damaged by your own immune system, which makes your joints inflamed, stiff and sore. In this case, the wearing down of your joints makes crepitus painful.
How do you treat crepitus?
If you’re not experiencing pain, crepitus is harmless and can be left untreated. However, if you’re experiencing pain, it’s important to consult with your doctor so that the underlying cause is understood and any damage isn’t exacerbated. Depending on your condition, your doctor will suggest treatments. While there’s no cure for crepitus, common home therapies and lifestyle changes include:
- Anti-inflammatory measures: If your crepitus stems from inflammation, your doctor will suggest anti-inflammatory measures, including medications but also therapies such as hot/cold packets or rest.
- Weight loss: By losing weight, you can take pressure off your knees, which will help reduce damage and inflammation in the long run.
- Custom orthotics: If you’re struggling with injury-related crepitus, such as runner’s knee, you can get custom orthotics or shoe inserts that will take the pressure off your joints and help streamline your exercise routine.
- Warm-up exercises: You can prevent tissue tears and injuries by warming up before every workout. Make sure you aren’t doing too much too fast when it comes to exercise. If you’re experiencing crepitus regularly during exercise, try skipping the hills and sticking to flat surfaces.
- Strengthen quadriceps: Weak quadriceps are one of the leading causes of knee pain, so exercises to strengthen this area are a great idea. Just be sure to start with lightweights and increase frequency over time.
- Chiropractor: Seeing a chiropractor for crepitus is an excellent idea if it’s recurring. Your chiropractor can help realign any joints that are misaligned, which may be contributing to the problem, in addition to suggesting specific stretching and strengthening exercises that you can do at home.
When in doubt, consult your doctor about your crepitus symptoms, especially when pain is involved, and follow these lifestyle changes for best results.
We hope this article has helped your knees quiet down!
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