What Is Crepitus?

Crepitus is a cracking or crackling sound that can be heard around the knees.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2014
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Crepitus is a clinical sign which can be associated with numerous medical conditions. It consists of a crackling or cracking sound, which is sometimes audible without a stethoscope. In some cases, the sound is accompanied by pain for the patient, while in others, it may be painless. The term “crepitus” is also sometimes used to describe flatulence, which often makes a distinctive crackling noise.

One common place to hear crepitus is around the joints. This can occur as a result of joint wear or inflammation, and in some cases because fluid or gas is built up around the joint. The patient may experience pain as a result of a pressure wave associated with the crepitus. Many people notice that their joints begin to creak and crack as they grow older, and that crepitus can also be experienced when the joints are stiff in the morning, especially if the weather is cold.

Another reason to hear this noise is when a bone is broken. Broken bones can grind against each other, making a grating noise. This is usually quite painful for the patient, as the grinding movement can involve nerve endings which will send pain signals to the brain when they are stimulated. Crepitus can also be heard in cases of joint dislocation, which can also be very painful.

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It is also possible to hear crackling and cracking noises around the lungs. This can happen in cases pf pneumonia and other lung conditions. Crackling may occur when the patient breathes and can be audible, or may occur at a very low level which can only be heard when listening to breath sounds through a stethoscope.

Buildups of gas under the skin, as seen in gas gangrene, will also generate crackling or cracking noises. The patient may experience discomfort in the affected area, and there can be visual changes as well, depending on the location of the gas buildup and the cause.

When crepitus is identified, it is important to determine what is causing it so that a treatment approach can be developed. A doctor may conduct a physical examination, order some medical tests, and interview the patient to learn more about what is going on. Once the doctor has diagnosed the condition or conditions causing the clinical sign, treatment recommendations can be discussed with the patient. In some cases, the sound is benign, and the recommended crepitus treatment may be no treatment at all.

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lighth0se33
Post 5

I sometimes have knee crepitus. I was in a car wreck years ago and injured my knee cap, and ever since then, it will crack from time to time when I move a certain way.

It often happens when I’m doing stretches before a workout. It seems strange that stretching would cause this, because it is meant to warm up the joints and muscles so that cracking and straining won’t occur.

Any time I bend my knee and lean forward as if to do a lunge, I hear cracking. I can almost bet on that. It kind of makes me feel as if I’ve thrown my knee out for a moment, but it doesn’t take long to recover.

For a few seconds, I feel vulnerable. A slight tinge of pain shoots through my leg, but it disappears rather quickly. I didn’t have knee surgery after the accident, so who knows what all is going on in there.

cloudel
Post 4

I have had crepitus in my joints before. I’ve never had any pain from it, though.

I did wonder what made the sound. I knew that it must not be harmful, because it didn’t hurt at all.

Sometimes, when I lift free weights, I hear a cracking sound in my elbow and my shoulder. It is loud and doesn’t sound like a good thing, but it seems to have no effect on the way my joints work. I guess as long as it’s not doing any harm, I don’t need to have anything done about it.

OeKc05
Post 3

@orangey03 - The crepitus I had with walking pneumonia is similar to what you had with bronchitis. The illness was confusing to me, because it seemed like a regular old cold at first, but instead of getting better, I got much worse after a couple of weeks.

I started out with a sore throat and congested sinuses. The congestion did not go away, and later on, I became really nauseous. I felt certain that I would vomit, but I never did.

I developed a cough. My lungs seemed to be full of mucus, but oddly enough, I didn’t seem to be coughing it up very much. I could hear a crackling sound when I exhaled, though, and that worried me.

My doctor determined that I had walking pneumonia because of my progressive symptoms. She gave me antibiotics, and in a few days, the crepitus and all my other symptoms were gone.

orangey03
Post 2

I have experienced crepitus with bronchitis before. I’ve never had pneumonia, but bronchitis is one step below it, and anything that causes your lungs or bronchial tubes to make crackling sounds is serious.

I’m sure it sounded really bad through a stethoscope, but it sounded bad enough just to my ears. Every time I would cough, I could hear what sounded like fluid crackling, and with every breath I took, I could hear wheezing in my chest.

There was no resting with this condition. I had to see a doctor, because I felt as though I were drowning. I don’t think I could have recovered from it on my own.

rrower
Post 1

I've heard that a crepitus sounds like "rice krispies" under a stethoscope. Listening for that sound would be incredibly useful to medical professionals who are not sure whether a patient has any internal injury.

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