Knees that “pop,” “click” or “crackle” may be headed toward arthritis in the near future, a new study suggests.
It’s common for the knees to get a little noisy on occasion, and hearing a “crack” during your yoga class is probably not something to worry about, experts say. But in a new study, middle-aged and older adults who said their knees often crackled were more likely to develop arthritis symptoms in the next year.
Of those who complained their knees were “always” noisy, 11 percent developed knee arthritis symptoms within a year. That compared with 4.5 percent of people who said their knees “never” popped or cracked. Everyone else fell into the middle. Of people who said their knees “sometimes” or “often” made noise, roughly 8 percent developed knee arthritis symptoms in the next year.
Doctors have a term for those joint noises: crepitus.
While patients commonly complain of it, until now, it hasn’t been clear whether crepitus can predict symptomatic knee arthritis. That means people not only have evidence of cartilage breakdown on X-rays, but also suffer symptoms from it—namely, frequent pain and stiffness.
While frequent crepitus should be checked out, you don’t need to run out and get knee replacements. But if you experience crepitus regularly, get an evaluation.
The findings, published May 4 in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, come with some caveats.
The nearly 3,500 study participants aged 45 – 79 were at increased risk of developing knee arthritis symptoms to begin with: some were at risk of knee arthritis simply because of old age, while others had risk factors such as obesity or a history of a significant knee injury.
Even though the study participants were initially free of knee arthritis symptoms, some did have signs of arthritis damage on an X-ray. And it was in that group where crepitus was a red flag: People who “often” or “always” had noisy knees were nearly three times more likely to develop knee arthritis symptoms as those who “never” had crepitus.
If you experience frequent cracking or popping in the knees, get an X-ray. If that turns up signs of arthritic damage, then the risk of progressing to symptoms in the near future is probably significant.
The bottom line
While there is no magic pill that can stop arthritis in progress, for patients who are heavy, weight loss can help. Some might also benefit from strengthening the muscles that support the knees.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has named Valley Medical Center a Best Hospital in Washington for Joint Replacement