Many of us have noticed a slight popping or cracking noise coming from our knees when we stand and waved it off a sign of aging. But even if this grating sound isn't accompanied by pain, doctors say you might be in a world of hurt a few years down the road. That's because your "noisy knees" indicate an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis.
According to a study out of Baylor University, of the 3,500 participants studied, those whose knees frequently cracked ran a higher risk of experiencing pain one year later than did participants whose knees did not make noises. Of those people who experienced audible knee cracks, called knee crepitus, almost 75 percent did not feel pain despite having X-rays that showed damage.
Osteoarthritis is "caused by mechanical wear and tear on joints," says WebMD, meaning the sound of stiff joints cracking—even if there is no pain associated with the motion—is an indicator that your body is slowly wearing down.
"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 Grace Lo, the study's lead author and an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine.
"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," said Lo.
Because osteoarthritis is simply a symptom of getting old, methods that could ease chronic knee pain have the potential to help millions of aging people. According to the Arthritis Foundation, of the 50 million Americans who suffer from the disorder, 31 million experience osteoarthritis. That's means a significant portion of arthritis sufferers may live life pain-free in the future.
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