An Early Sign of Knee Arthritis?

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Do your knees make unusual noises when you’re moving? Those pops and clicks you hear coming from your knees may be the sound of arthritis beginning to take hold.

In a study published last year in Arthritis Care & Research, people ages 45 to 79 who experienced frequent joint noises, called crepitus, were more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis symptoms within a year.

The researchers suggest that frequent complaints of knee grating, cracking, or popping might warrant an X-ray even if there’s no pain. It’s important to note, though, that the study participants all had a high risk of developing arthritis, related to such factors as aging, obesity, or a previous knee injury. And it’s also normal to hear occasional knee joint sounds that aren’t signs of arthritis.

In the study of nearly 3,500 adults, 11 percent of people who said their knees were always making sounds developed arthritis symptoms such as pain and stiffness within a year. About 8 percent who complained of noisy knees often or sometimes developed symptoms within the year. Only 4.5 percent of people who reported no knee popping or cracking developed arthritis.

If you don’t have knee pain but are concerned about noisy knees, see your doctor. If arthritis is evident on an X-ray, early interventions like losing excess weight and avoiding high-impact activities that may put your knees at risk for injury could help keep symptoms at bay. Activities like cycling or swimming can strengthen the muscles around the knee to help stabilize the joint.

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