Does your neckCrepitu sound like Rice Krispies every time you look in the side view mirror of your car?
Do you knees sound like a goat eating aluminum foil when you squat?
Are you finding it difficult to continue your career as a cat burglar because your creaky joints wake up the neighborhood?
What are these noises your body makes and do you need to worry about it? These noises all fall under the definition of “crepitus.” Crepitus is defined as an audible grating sensation that is produced by motion…a.k.a., “somethin’ is rubbin’ on somethin’ in there.” Crepitus can present in a variety of ways. Fine crepitus is typically palpable over joints. Course crepitus is often associated with arthritis and can be made more noticeable by inflammation. Sometimes a higher pitched “squeak” is a characteristic of crepitus. The (NORMAL) “irregularity” of the shapes of joint surfaces or an increase in fluid or swelling in a joint may cause these sounds you hear (and feel).
So do you have to worry about it? In short, NO. Just like other typical occurrences that are benefits of having more candles on your birthday cake, crepitus is a normal part of being a human and does not mean that something is “wrong” with your body or requires medical attention. These “pops” and “cracks” are less contributory to joint disease diagnosis and can be heard over perfectly normal joints (whatever “normal” means when it comes to the human body).
But, as always, there are caveats, and, as I am sure you are sick of hearing our Doctors of Physical Therapy say…it “depends” on whether we need to address it.
When do we need to address crepitus? If you have:
THEN it’s time for a deeper evaluation. Through a thorough orthopedic and musculoskeletal examination by a Doctor of Physical Therapy, we can determine the cause of the crepitus and if it requires our attention. If we determine the crepitus is a sign of a deeper, more pressing condition, then our aim is to reduce any further stress or damage to the cartilage and developing strategies to improve joint health by working on strength and mobility.
Some good news? Studies show that asymptomatic knee crepitus has no relationships with outcomes on patellofemoral pain or knee osteoarthritis. Studies have also showed no change in range of motion or local muscle strength with asymptomatic crepitus in the shoulder.
As with the majority of patients that walk in our door, these asymptomatic clinical findings or image results don’t matter…until they matter. Meaning, unless you start to develop pain, altered sensation of movement in a joint, or a significant increase in the amount of crepitus, you can be assured your joint is not “eroding” and your function will not change. Keep moving. Keep getting stronger.