The majority of adults have experienced a noisy knee. You know, when your knee makes that popping sound as you get up from a chair. Or when your foot keeps cracking for no apparent reason while you walk.
You may feel embarrassed by the sound, especially when the joint keeps cracking in a quiet room, drawing everyone’s attention to you. You may even feel certain discomfort in the joint. But did you know that cracking joints could be a sign of an impending arthritis diagnosis?
In one study, out of thousands of people who did not suffer from any knee pain, one-quarter had noisy knees. Those with cracking joints made up 75 percent of cases of symptomatic knee arthritis by the end of the three-year study period.
In particular, noisy joints coupled with osteoarthritis changes that are visible on an x-ray (for example, joint space loss) point to a higher risk of developing joint pain within the next year.
Symptomatic knee arthritis means a patient is experiencing symptoms like pain or stiffness (aside from the x-ray evidence). About 16 percent of adults over 60 are affected by the condition.
Here are a few things to consider if you’ve been hearing your joints pop lately:
Even after accounting for weight and other contributing factors, researchers uncovered that as the frequency of noisy joints increased, so did the risk of developing symptomatic arthritis.
Patients who reported having noisy joints “rarely” were 50 percent more likely to develop the condition compared to those who never had cracking joints. Patients who experienced noisy joints “sometimes” or “frequently” had about double the risk of developing symptomatic arthritis, and those who “always” had it were three times more likely to get the diagnosis within the next four years.
Other factors affecting one’s risk were older age and sex. Men with noisy joints were more likely to suffer from arthritis in the future than women.
“Differences across genders is interesting and unexplained. This may tell us about differences in symptom reporting or the biology of osteoarthritis,” said Daniel Solomon, the chair of arthritis and population health at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
“This could help identify ways to decrease the risk for developing knee pain,” added study lead author Grace Lo.
So, the next time you hear your knee pop or your foot crack, don’t be alarmed. Not all noises your joints produce necessarily mean danger. If anything, it should be a wake-up call for you to see your doctor to check your joints. You should also take care of them on a daily basis by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and protecting your joints from injuries.