Patients who hear “grating, cracking, or popping sounds” in or around their knee joint may be at increased risk of developing knee osteoarthritis, according to researchers.
They found that such sounds, known as subjective crepitus, may potentially be an indicator of the long-term condition before the patient experiences any pain.
“Many people who have signs of osteoarthritis on x-rays do not necessarily complain of pain”
Therefore, they suggested that subjective crepitus, may be helpful to clinicians for identifying those at risk of knee osteoarthritis, potentially assisting with earlier diagnosis and intervention.
The researchers used data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a multi-centre observational study of nearly 3,500 participants in the US.
Among those who subsequently developed knee osteoarthritis within a year, more than 75% had signs of it on radiographic images but no frequent knee pain at the start of the study.
The odds of developing incident symptomatic osteoarthritis were higher with greater frequency of crepitus – either never, rarely, sometimes, often, or always – found the study in the journal Arthritis Care and Research.
Lead author Dr Grace Lo, assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said: “Many people who have signs of osteoarthritis on x-rays do not necessarily complain of pain, and there are no known strategies for preventing the development of pain in this group of people.
“This study suggests that if these people have noisy knees, they are at higher risk for developing pain within the next year compared with the people who do not have noisy knees,” she said.
She added: “Future studies that target people who have x-ray signs of osteoarthritis, and who do not complain of pain but do report noisy knees, hold the promise of identifying interventions that can prevent knee pain.”
Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research UK, said: “We know that some of the first signs of osteoarthritis, other than pain and stiffness, can be a creaking, crunching or grinding sensation when you move the joint.
“Osteoarthritis of the knee affects different people in different ways, so we can’t predict how it’ll progress,” she said. “That’s why early detection is important in finding more effective treatment.
“The findings of this study highlight the importance of looking at symptoms other than just pain and stiffness,” she added.