A little cracking or popping when you move your knees is normal … right?
A new study finds that it could be a sign that you could be at risk for developing knee osteoarthritis (OA) — but only if you’re in a certain age group.
The evaluation took data from nearly 3,500 people as part of the Osteoarthritis Initiative.
It concluded that grating, cracking, or popping sounds in or around the knee joints (a condition known as crepitus) may put some people at an increased risk for developing OA.
The study looked at people ages 45 to 79. The average age of the participants was 61.
Of those who developed diagnosable OA within a year, more than 75 percent showed signs of the degenerative disease on radiographic images.
Those same people, however, did not have frequent knee pain (but did have noisy knees) when the four-year study started.
Assessing risk factors
So, what do these results prove?
“This study suggests that if these people have noisy knees, they are at higher risk for developing pain within the next year compared to the people who do not have noisy knees,” Dr. Grace Lo, lead author, and an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told Healthline.
Lo said that further study of those with noisy joints who shows signs of OA on X-rays, but do not complain of pain, may be helpful in identifying ways to intervene earlier.
“Not all noises coming from a knee are a bad sign,” Lo explained. “So, if you have noisy knees, it might be helpful to ask your primary care provider for a regular X-ray to see if you have evidence of osteoarthritis.”
Predicting knee ailments
Lo cautioned that the study only looked at people from the ages of 45 to 79, so the results only speak to people in that age group.
“There is no evidence that joint grinding or noise is associated with future knee OA in younger people,” Dr. Daniel Riddle, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, told Healthline.
The mechanism causing grinding or joint noise is unknown, Riddle said. But it does appear to be related to having knee OA, although that is not the only cause.
Lo said people in that age range may want to get a screening to see if they show evidence of having OA.
If you are not in that age group but have noisy knees, Riddle said it’s not necessary to be screened as there is no treatment for the symptoms.
“At present, there are no known benefits to early diagnosis,” Lo added. “There are some common-sense strategies that can be implemented should a person find that they have knee crepitus and radiographic evidence of knee OA but no frequent knee symptoms.”
Anyone who finds evidence of OA may want to ensure they maintain a healthy weight and avoid activities that put knees at a high risk for injury.