What Is Crepitus?

A crackling or grating sensation in a joint is called crepitus ("krep-it-us"). People can experience crepitus at any age, but it becomes more common as people get older.

Crepitus, sometimes called crepitation (krep-i-tay-shen), describes any grinding, creaking, cracking, grating, crunching, or popping that occurs when moving a joint. The sound associated with crepitus may be muffled or it may be loud enough for other people to hear.

The term crepitus is sometimes also used to describe other conditions, such lung crackling from respiratory illnesses and bone grating after a fracture.

Article continues below

What Causes Joint Crepitus?

Crepitus is often caused by popping air bubbles or by snapping tendons or ligaments. In these cases, the person usually does not feel pain.

Creptius can also be caused by arthritis—typically either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis causes a joint’s articular cartilage to degenerate. When this happens, a joint is longer adequately protected against friction and impacts. In addition, the loss of cartilage alters the joints biomechanics and the bones may grind against one another, and these changes can result in crepitus.

Many people experience crepitus in the knee, and notice it when the affected knee bends or flexes. People can also get crepitus in other joints, such as the hip, shoulder, neck and spine, which are frequently affected by arthritis.

Does Crepitus Need to Be Treated?

Crepitus usually is not a cause for concern. In fact, most people’s joints crack or pop occasionally, and that is considered normal. But if crepitus is regular and is accompanied by pain, swelling, or other concerning symptoms it may be an indication of a medical condition.

Creptius alone does not require treatment. When crepitus is a symptom of a medical condition, such as painful osteoarthritis, the treatment will focus on the underlying condition.

Further Reading: Crepitus in the Knee
More Resources in the General Center