Creaky Knees and Arthritis

“My knees sometimes make creaky noises. I guess I’m getting older.” It’s a common complaint from people in their middle years. But, according to new research, those noises might mean not just that they’re getting old, but that they’re also getting arthritis.

Doctors have a term for creaking in the joints — crepitus. In this latest study, published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, a team of researchers from three U.S. medical centers sought to determine whether an association exists between crepitus and knee osteoarthritis (OA). They studied data collected on nearly 3,500 patients by the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a nationwide research study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. About 60 percent were women and 40 percent men, with a median age around 61. The researchers ranked crepitus among these patients according to a scale: never, rarely, sometimes, often, and always.

What they found was that the higher the patient was on the crepitus scale, the higher the odds of that patient developing symptomatic knee OA. Patients with crepitus who had x-ray evidence of OA but who felt little or no pain were especially likely to develop symptomatic — that is, painful — knee OA.

Because the study was written for physicians, its conclusions were aimed at them. They were advised to ask patients during routine office visits if they experienced crepitus and to take a “yes” answer seriously. It was also suggested that they might want to use x-rays to help identify patients with crepitus who are at risk for OA. But patients can also take something away from this new research: If your knees creak, you might want to tell your doctor.

Want to learn more about treating knee osteoarthritis? Read “Knee Injections Reduce Pain in Knee Osteoarthritis,” “Knee Brace Can Alleviate Osteoarthritis Pain,” and “Silk In Knee Replacements.”

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