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Cracking or Popping Noise in the Wrist

Popping and cracking in your wrist can be an uncomfortable sensation that arises during many of your daily activities. Unfortunately, the origins of this joint noise are not always clear-cut. Paying attention to your symptoms can help you identify the potential cause, however.

Crepitus is the abnormal popping or crackling sound in a joint. It may be faint or loud enough for people to hear. It often comes with a popping or crunching sensation, which can sometimes be uncomfortable or painful.

The term crepitus is derived from the Latin for "rattling" or "creaking." Crepitus is not a condition, but rather a descriptive quality. Healthcare providers use it to help pinpoint the source of a problem.

Crepitus of the Joints Crepitus of the joints can be related to joint damage. It may occur in tandem with a joint disorder or entirely on its own. As a symptom, it is not necessarily a problem in and of itself. Cracking your knuckles, for example, reveals a form of crepitus caused by tiny nitrogen gas bubbles in a joint. They suddenly pop with the strenuous movement. Crepitus of the joints is generally only a problem when the popping is progressive, meaning it continues or grows worse over time, or if you have other symptoms of joint damage, injury, or infection.

Joint Damage Crepitus can occur when the rough surfaces of two joints rub together. This causes the cartilage and/or bone to physically grate against each other. When there is pain, it is typically related to advanced joint damage. Pain also may be due to the compression, or squeezing, of nerves between the narrowed joint spaces. It is at this stage that the joint may begin to show signs of injury, including swelling, redness, limited range of motion, and joint malformation.

Does Crepitus Need to Be Treated?

Crepitus usually is not a cause for concern. In fact, most people’s joints crack or pop occasionally, and that is considered normal. But if crepitus is regular and is accompanied by pain, swelling, or other concerning symptoms, it may be an indication of arthritis or another medical condition.

Treatments for crepitus

In most cases, you won’t need to have treatment for crepitus. Applying ice to the joint and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is usually enough to alleviate the pain and inflammation. However, if you have other symptoms that are affecting your everyday life, medication or steroid injections may be recommended to treat the underlying problem. Arthroscopy (keyhole surgery) is used to investigate joint or repair damage. Joint replacement (such as hip or knee replacement) may be an option in severe cases or when your joint is badly damaged.

You may need to make adjustments to your exercise routine after your treatment. To prevent your crepitus symptoms returning, you should avoid activities that inflict a lot of impact on your joints and work out with lighter weights.


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