It happens one day without warning. You go to get out of bed, and you’re greeted with two unpleasant sensations at the same time: Pain in your knees and an unpleasant crunching sound. The easiest answer may be to joke about the inherent risks of getting older, but there are genuine reasons for that terrible crunching sound and how those conditions can be treated. 

Let’s look at some of the potential causes of pain and popping in the knees and how a doctor may help. 

What’s the Problem?

Crepitus may read like the name of some Scandinavian mythological monster, but it’s the medical term for that crackling sound you hear in the knee. Crepitus may indicate benign conditions, but sometimes, it can be a signal of something more serious. 

  • Gas: Tiny gas bubbles can form around the knee joint, and those bubbles can pop when the knee bends. The good news is, this is normal and painless. 
  • Tendons and Ligaments: The knee joint is surrounded by tendons and ligaments that sometimes stretch and snap back into place. This condition is not an uncommon occurrence but may occasionally hurt. 
  • Structural Differences: Not everyone’s knees are created equal. Some people have more or less or different cartilage or tissue around the knees, making them more prone to cracking or popping. 

These instances occur, more or less, naturally and don’t necessarily indicate any sort of severe underlying cause. But sometimes, there is a bigger problem linked to crepitus, such as: 

  • Injury: The snapping and cracking of crepitus can be a byproduct of an injury.  Such injuries include a tear in the meniscus, a piece of cartilage in the knee. If the meniscus is torn, the knee’s cartilage may move about and cause pain and crunching. 
  • Osteoarthritis: As you age, or as you place more stress on your knees, you become more prone to developing osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis in which the cartilage over the joint wears away, increasing the odds of inflammation, pain, and crunching of the knee. 

What’s the Solution? 

There are several ways that crepitus can be treated, some of which can be done at home. Still, you should always consult a medical professional first regarding any new or worsening sensations, particularly if the crunching noise you hear is accompanied by pain. 

  • Medication: A doctor may prescribe or recommend medication to help treat pain and inflammation that may come with crepitus. 
  • Heat or Cold Therapy: Placing either a heating pad or ice pack on the area may help with pain or swelling that may cause or complicate the crepitus. 
  • Extra support: A knee brace may lend stability to crunchy knees, making them less crunchy. 
  • Rest: If the crepitus is caused by an issue like arthritis or an injury, staying off your feet will help.

A Final Word 

Crepitus as a sensation, is often more of a nuisance than an actual problem. Still, it is essential to know as much about its potential causes as possible to be effectively treated. 

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