Have you ever experienced knee joint noises that make you wonder if your tissues are rubbing or grinding against each other while going up or down the stairs, squatting or kneeling? Have you wondered what that means or if it is damaging? This noise or feeling is called crepitus which can be caused by nitrogen gas bubbles popping, tendons sliding over bony structures or one bone rubbing on another. Generally, crepitus is not painful and does not necessarily mean that you have arthritis.
A paper by de Oliveira Silva et al., (2018) studied 126 women aged 18-35 years. Some had patellar (kneecap) pain (n=65) and some had no pain (n=51). The study found that 50% of those with patellar pain had crepitus while 33% with no knee pain also had crepitus. Pazzinatto et al., (2019) looked at 584 men and women aged 45-78 years with knee arthritis and crepitus (n=361) and with knee arthritis without crepitus (n=233). Their aim was to assess if crepitus negatively affected people’s perception of their knee health and overall function. They concluded people with both knee pain and crepitus reported higher levels of pain and lower quality of life but functionally performed equally to those with no crepitus. In a separate study, Pazzinatto et al., (2019) studied 4566 participants aged 45-79 years who presented with arthritis with and without crepitus. At the 3 year follow up, the authors found those with arthritis and crepitus were at no greater risk for a total knee replacement than those with arthritis alone.
What does all this mean?
We can conclude that the crepitus in your knee can be a normal phenomenon regardless of age, does not indicate the severity of knee arthritis and may be present without pain. If you have crepitus in your knee with no pain, you can continue to be active regardless of the presence of arthritis. We know keeping active is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy knee. If you have pain in your knee(s) with or without crepitus, it would be a good idea to seek out a Physiotherapist to help reduce your pain and maximize your function.
The articles mentioned above can be found using the following links: