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Crepitus vs. Crackles — What's the Difference?

By Urooj Arif & Maham Liaqat — Updated on April 8, 2024
Crepitus is a medical term for the grating sound or feeling from bones or tissues, while crackles are sounds heard in the lungs during inhalation.
Crepitus vs. Crackles — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Crepitus and Crackles


Key Differences

Crepitus refers to the crackling or popping sounds and sensations experienced under the skin and joints or in various parts of the body, often resulting from air entering subcutaneous tissues, friction between bones, or the presence of gas in joint spaces. Crackles, on the other hand, are specific to the lungs and are heard with a stethoscope during inhalation, indicating fluid in the airways.
While crepitus can be felt and sometimes heard in cases of joint injuries, osteoarthritis, or after certain surgeries, indicating abnormalities in bone contact or gas in soft tissues, crackles are audible manifestations of conditions like pneumonia, heart failure, or bronchitis, revealing the presence of fluid or secretions in the lungs.
Crepitus is generally detected through physical examination by feeling the joints or tissues, or it can manifest as a sound during movements. Crackles are specifically identified during respiratory examination and can be classified based on their timing in the breath cycle (early, mid, or late inspiratory) and their sound quality (fine or coarse).
The occurrence of crepitus can signal various conditions ranging from benign, such as air trapped under the skin, to serious, like bone fractures or joint damage. Conversely, crackles typically point to respiratory conditions that may require immediate medical attention to address fluid accumulation or infection in the lungs.
Understanding the distinction between crepitus and crackles is crucial for medical professionals in diagnosing and treating underlying conditions. While crepitus might lead to further imaging studies to assess joint or tissue damage, the detection of crackles could prompt tests like chest X-rays to visualize fluid in the lungs.

Comparison Chart


Sound or sensation in bones or tissues.
Sounds heard in the lungs during inhalation.


Air in tissues, bone friction, gas in joints.
Fluid in airways, pneumonia, heart failure.


Through physical examination or movement.
Heard with a stethoscope during respiratory exam.


Can indicate joint issues, fractures, or surgery effects.
Suggests respiratory conditions needing medical attention.


Not applicable.
Classified by timing (early, mid, late) and sound quality (fine, coarse).

Compare with Definitions


Indicates friction between bones.
Crepitus in her shoulder suggested degenerative joint disease.


Can signal serious lung diseases.
Persistent crackles prompted further tests for pulmonary fibrosis.


Can be a symptom of arthritis.
His crepitus was diagnosed as a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis.


A lung sound indicating fluid presence.
Crackles were heard in her lungs, suggesting pneumonia.


Sometimes audible during joint movements.
The doctor noted crepitus when the patient moved his elbow.


Detected through a stethoscope during inhalation.
Fine crackles were detected on early inhalation.


A sign of joint issues felt as a crackling sensation.
She felt crepitus in her knee after the fall.


Classified as fine or coarse based on sound.
Coarse crackles indicated severe fluid accumulation.


Occurs when air seeps into soft tissues.
Crepitus was evident along his arm post-surgery.


Heard in conditions like heart failure.
The patient's crackles were consistent with congestive heart failure.


Crepitus is grating, crackling or popping sounds and sensations experienced under the skin and joints or a crackling sensation due to the presence of air in the subcutaneous tissue. Various types of crepitus that can be heard in joint pathologies are: Bone crepitus: This can be heard when two fragments of a fracture are moved against each other.


Crackles are the clicking, rattling, or crackling noises that may be made by one or both lungs of a human with a respiratory disease during inhalation. They are usually heard only with a stethoscope ("on auscultation").


A grating sound or sensation produced by friction between bone and cartilage or the fractured parts of a bone.


To make a succession of slight sharp snapping noises
A fire crackling in the wood stove.


(medicine) Grating, crackling or popping sounds and sensations experienced under the skin and joints.


To show liveliness, energy, or intensity
A book that crackles with humor.


The noise produced by a sudden discharge of wind from the bowels.


To become covered with a network of fine cracks; craze.


To crush (paper, for example) with sharp snapping sounds.


To cause (china, for example) to become covered with a network of fine cracks.


The act or sound of crackling.


A network of fine cracks on the surface of glazed pottery, china, or glassware.




Plural of crackle



Common Curiosities

Can crepitus indicate serious health issues?

Yes, crepitus can indicate serious conditions like fractures or joint damage, depending on its location and cause.

Is crepitus common after surgery?

Crepitus can occur post-surgery due to air trapped in tissues or as a result of the surgical process itself.

Are crackles always a sign of a severe condition?

Crackles often indicate a condition that requires medical evaluation, though the severity can vary.

What causes lung crackles?

Lung crackles are caused by fluid in the airways, often from pneumonia, heart failure, or bronchitis.

Can crepitus go away on its own?

Some forms of crepitus, especially those caused by gas in tissues, can resolve without treatment.

How are crepitus and crackles detected?

Crepitus is detected through physical examination or movement, while crackles are heard with a stethoscope during a lung exam.

What do fine crackles in the lungs mean?

Fine crackles typically indicate early-stage fluid accumulation in the lungs, often from conditions like pneumonia.

How can lung crackles be treated?

Treatment for lung crackles focuses on addressing the underlying cause, such as antibiotics for pneumonia.

What is crepitus?

Crepitus is the sensation or sound of crackling in the bones or tissues, often due to air, gas, or bone friction.

Are crackles and wheezes the same?

No, crackles are distinct from wheezes, which are high-pitched sounds typically associated with airway obstruction.

Can crepitus be treated?

Treatment for crepitus depends on its underlying cause, ranging from conservative management to surgery for serious conditions.

Why are crackles and crepitus important in diagnosis?

Both can be important diagnostic clues, indicating potential issues in the joints, bones, or respiratory system.

What do coarse crackles indicate?

Coarse crackles may indicate more severe lung conditions, such as advanced stages of pneumonia or heart failure.

Can exercise cause crepitus?

Yes, exercise can cause crepitus, especially if there's underlying joint or bone issues.

Is crepitus a normal part of aging?

Crepitus can be more common with aging due to wear and tear on the joints, but it's not considered normal.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.
Co-written by
Maham Liaqat

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