Clicking and popping knees may be a sign of osteoarthritis

People who hear grating, cracking, or popping sounds in or around their knee joint may be at increased risk of developing osteoarthritis.

US researchers have found individuals with ‘noisy knees’ – even when they do not experience knee or joint pain –  may go on to suffer with the degenerative disease.

The team in Houston said their study is the first to find this link – which could help more people access preventive treatment.

‘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,’ said lead author Grace Lo, assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine. 

Osteoarthritis can involve all joints of the body, but it’s most commonly found in the fingers, knees, hips and spine

‘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.’

A total of 3,500 participants were enrolled for the study who were at higher risk of developing osteoarthritis.

The study discovered that people whose knees frequently made sounds were at higher risk of developing pain within the next year compared with the people who did not have noisy knees.

Among those who developed the disease within a year, more than 75 percent reported no frequent knee pain despite having signs of the condition on radiographic images. 

Some of these individuals had reported noisy knees that grated, cracked, or popped when they moved. 

Pain can be relieved by applying heat or cold packs to stiff and painful joints

Therefore, researchers now believe that knee crepitus – the term for crackling, grating, or popping sensation when bending the knee – should be treated as an indicator of osteoarthritis risk.

Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic condition of the joints and affects at least 8 million people in the UK.

It causes pain, stiffness and for some people can be disabling, and often develops slowly over many years, according to Arthritis Research UK.

Experts believe the firm rubbery material that covers the joins, begins to break down or swell.

As the condition progresses, cartilage and even bone can break down and chip off. 

Eventually, the cartilage completely wears away, causing the bones to rub against each other, causing pain on movement.

The disease can affect anyone, but is more common in those aged 65 and older.

Risk factors include older age, obesity, previous joint injury, overuse of the joint, weak thigh muscles, and genes.

There’s no cure for osteoarthritis, but medication can help manage painful symptoms. 

A study from 2013 found that methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA), may also be helpful for patients with OA. 

In a few cases, where other treatments haven’t been helpful, surgery to repair, strengthen or replace damaged joints may also be considered. 

Self-help methods such as maintaining a normal weight for height and body structure, keeping physically active and avoiding excessive stress on the joints as you get older, can reduce the severity and effects of osteoarthritis. 


Medical history and examination by a doctor is the most common method.

An X-ray examination can also reveal whether a patient has osteoarthritis.

Often there will be no correlation between the amount of pain and the severity of the arthritis as shown by the X-ray. 

Some people have a lot of pain from fairly minor joint damage, while others have little pain from more severe damage. 

It is the pain and the problems with movement that are decisive in making the diagnosis.

There’s no blood test for osteoarthritis, samples may be taken to rule out any inflammatory forms of arthritis.

Source: Arthritis Research UK