Crepitus is a sound-word – like crash or splash
Crepitus is one of those words I don’t think I used before being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (like discrepancy). Crepitus is a general term for noise in the body like the grating, popping, or cracking sounds produced by joints or supporting tissues or the crunching sound in the lungs that can occur with emphysema. I never liked the word crepitus because it sounded a bit gross to me – like creepy. But crepitus actually comes from the Latin word for “creaking”. So the root word “crepit” may have originated as a word to imitate a sound, or onomatopoeia, like purr or zap.
What is crepitus?
Crepitus is often said to be the sound of two surfaces rubbing together, or sometimes it’s explained as the sound of trapped air. Most likely, there are multiple causes for the variety of sounds joints can make. Crepitus can be loud or quiet in different people. Even in my own joints, I’ve noticed a variety of noises like grinding, snapping, and clicking – all different from the normal “popping” I heard sometimes before my Rheumatoid diagnosis. In established Rheumatoid disease, crepitus may be caused by rough joint structures rubbing together because of deterioration. Or in early disease, it may be caused by inflammation of a tendon or tendon sheath.
The medical dictionary at Medicine Net implies that crepitus can sometimes be felt as much as heard: “crackling, crinkly, or grating feeling or sound under the skin, around the lungs, or in the joints,” and most Rheumatoid patients probably recognize the feeling. The sound is usually accompanied by a physical sensation of movement beneath the skin, but not always. Sometimes, crepitus is accompanied by pain, but not always.
The annoying sound of crepitus: Did you hear that?
I’ll never forget the surprising snapping that preceded stiffness, weakness, and pain in every joint during the months of 2006 when Rheumatoid disease spread through my body like two long symmetrical rows of dominoes. Out of the blue one day the DIP joints of both forefingers began to snap. Within a couple of days, they were both too inflamed to move. Then the elbows cracked; then something else…
Nowadays, the most bothersome crepitus is in my head. No, I’m not imagining it. Technically, the sound is in my spine as it feels like the base of my skull snaps every few minutes. Too often, I ask, “Did you hear that?” Usually, it doesn’t hurt like the grinding in my shoulders. It’s just unsettling to feel something snap so deep inside the neck.