Does a Crunching Noise in Knee Mean Arthritis?

Most people automatically assume that a crunching noise in knee means arthritis. However, this isn’t always the case.

In some cases, it can mean something completely different. First, know that the official medical term for this phenomenon is “Crepitus”.

While this term is usually used when referring to the joints, it can sometimes be used when referring to the lungs as well.

Below, we’ll talk about some of the most common causes of this troubling symptom.

The Anatomy of the Knee

We’ll start by talking about the basic anatomy of the knee. The knee operates just like a hinge.

It’s the middleman between the tibia (part of the lower leg) and femur (the bone of the thigh). Another bone in the lower leg known as the fibula also connects here.

The kneecap – known as the patella – which is in the front side of knee, provides support and protection.

The synovial fluid helps lubricate everything, while four rough ligaments help connect all the bones. Here’s a video to help you get a better understanding:

What Causes Crepitus?

A crunching noise in the knee can be due to a lot of things. A lot of the time, it’s due to the buildup of gas in the area that surrounds the joint.

This creates tiny air pockets within the synovial fluid.

When the knee is bent, these air pockets will dissipate, which can cause a “pop” or “snap” sound. For the most part, this is completely normal.

In fact, it can happen from time to time without signifying anything serious.

Obviously, arthritis is another possibility. This can also cause a crunching noise in the knee. However, the difference is that it causes damage in the bone and cartilage.

Finally, crepitus can also be due to an injury.

There’s no way to diagnose this yourself. We recommend talking with your doctor about the potential causes.

Now that we’ve talked about the potential causes, let’s talk about when you should begin to worry about this symptom.

When Should You Worry?

crunching noise in knee

For the most part, crepitus is a painless physiologic phenomenon.

Sometimes, though, it’s more serious.

For example, if the popping and cracking also causes pain, then this could indicate a problem.

Cracking in the knee is one of the telltale signs of osteoarthritis (OA).

It could also be the result of infectious arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

If a cracking noise in your knee is causing pain, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

The Link Between Arthritis and Crepitus

Approximately 30 million people in the United States suffer from osteoarthritis. It usually affects middle-aged and older people, and causes quite a bit of pain.

In simple terms, it refers to the “wear and tear” of joints (particularly those in the hips, knees, and hands).

Osteoarthritis causes breakdown of cartilage within the knee.

The cartilage that normally serves as a buffer between bones begins to break down.

Once the cartilage is destroyed, the bones can rub together, leading to a crunching noise in knee.

So, if your crepitus is associated with mild to severe pain, then you could have osteoarthritis.

Less Common Causes of a Crunching Noise in Knee

There are some less common causes of crepitus that you should know about. They include:

  • Meniscus Tear: The meniscus is a piece of cartilage in your knee that, like any piece of cartilage, is susceptible to tearing. Meniscus tears are more common in people who regularly run and/or play sports.
  • Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: If you’re experiencing a dull pain with your crepitus, then it could be due to overuse. Patellofemoral pain syndrome is not the same as arthritis – the latter is more serious.

Again, these are some of the less common causes of this troubling symptom.

Treating The Pain

There are ways to treat the pain associated with crepitus.

The treatment option will depend on the root of the problem.

For example, if you’re suffering from osteoarthritis, then your doctor will give you NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

These are quite effective at reducing inflammation and pain.

If the painful crunching noise in the knee is due to overuse, then you might need to wear a brace.

You can also work with a physical therapist to help strengthen the muscles around your knee.

This will give your knee more support and range of motion.

In extreme cases, a joint replacement surgery will be required. But this is generally reserved for when nothing else is working.

Alternative Treatment Options

There are ways to treat crepitus pain more naturally. Our first recommendation is to change your diet.

Incorporate a plant-based diet into your life. Also, consume fewer animal-based foods.

Studies have shown that this can help reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

You can also try glucosamine.

This is a relatively common treatment option for people who are suffering from osteoarthritis.

Eating more omega-3 fatty acids (flaxseeds, chia seeds, etc.) can also help reduce inflammation associated with arthritis. You can take an omega-3 supplement, but it’s better to get it from your diet.

No Pain, No Problem

If your crunching noise in the knee isn’t associated with pain, then consider it a normal part of your body’s physiology.

However, if it is associated with pain, then speak with your doctor as soon as possible to discuss the potential treatment options.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease that can be quite painful, and might be the cause of your pain if you’re older.

If you know someone who is suffering from this troubling symptom, then please share this article with them.

Thanks for reading!

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