Crunchy Knees? What is Crepitus?

Crepitus is a crunching or grinding sensation within the joint, often described as sounding and feeling like rice-crispies crunching.

It is also worth noting that sometimes this term is used to describe a popping sound or sensation in the knee. However, to me this is something quite different and comes from a build up of gas bubbles within the joint popping under compression, or a tendon not gliding smoothly or possibly a meniscal tissue tear.

More often than not, Crepitus originates from the patella-femoral joint. This is the interface between the knee-cap and the Trochlear Grove of the Femur or thigh bone, which the knee cap glides in as you bend and straighten the knee. Non-painful crepitus is generally ignored and this is okay if it’s transient and disappears within a short time of occurring.

However, Crepitus can be an indication of early wear and tear of the smooth cartilaginous surfaces of the joint (responsible for smooth gliding movement) and therefore if it appears to be getting worse - more audible and palpable, when going up and down stairs, squatting and when exercising, then it would be a wise move to get it checked out. This problem can occur due to a bio-mechanical issue, where the knee cap is dragged out to the side by overly tight structures on the outer thigh (Illiotibial Band and lateral Quadriceps), resulting in rubbing. This gradually wears at the cartilage until the grinding sensation is felt or heard. The problem can be addressed very effectively in the early stages with stretching, strengthening, correcting imbalances between muscle groups and soft tissue release. Taping the knee-cap or wearing a brace suitable for exercise can also help to encourage normal tracking of the knee cap.

Crepitus can also occur within the knee joint itself (the cartilage interface between Femur and Tibia - thigh and shin bone) and this is potentially a more serious issue, indicating signs of early degeneration within the main part of the knee. Again, if addressed early it can be treated or managed non-surgically through strengthening, stretching, loosening and weight loss where appropriate.

So, although Crepitus is generally ignored unless there is also pain and/or swelling, I would always rather see people at an early stage to assess whether there is potential for further damage rather than wait until there is. Having recently developed knee Crepitus myself I am also aware of how disconcerting the noise is and it says 'danger' rather loudly to my brain- hard to ignore anyway!! It is also worth knowing that wear and tear / degeneration in the knee is more likely to occur when there is a history of previous injury to the knee and in this instance the case for getting it checked out is even stronger.