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When joints create a grinding or popping sound or sensation, this is known as crepitus. Occasional joint crepitus is considered normal and is no cause for alarm. However, a large new study suggests that frequent knee crepitus may be an early warning sign of knee osteoarthritis.

The study included nearly 3,500 middle-age individuals with no initial symptoms of knee osteoarthritis and tracked them for 2 years. Researchers found that participants who reported having no knee pain, but frequent or constant knee crepitus, were at higher risk for having symptoms of osteoarthritis within a year.

This was especially true for those with physical signs of knee degeneration (via X-ray results) at the beginning of the study—despite making up only 26% of the total study group, 75% of them went on to develop symptoms of osteoarthritis.

More research is needed to establish what the connection is between frequent crepitus and osteoarthritis. But crepitus’s possible role as a warning sign of osteoarthritis means that people who experience frequent crepitus can take measures to protect their joints.

Osteoarthritis can’t be cured or prevented, but the sooner treatment and exercise starts, the easier it is to manage symptoms and slow degeneration.

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