Do Noisy Knees Mean You'll Develop Arthritis?

What the Creaking and Crunching Could Mean

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Your knee may sometimes creak, crunch, or pop when you flex or extend it. This may make you worry that there's an underlying problem.

Noisy knees can be a sign you may develop arthritis, but not always. There are also things you can do to slow or stop the progression of arthritis in the knee.

This article looks at noisy knees and what the evidence says about their cause. It also offers some tips on what you can do about your noisy knees.

Woman running down stairs
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About the Knee Joint

The knee joint is where three bones come together:

The surface of these bones is covered with a smooth layer of cushioning called articular cartilage. The meniscus, another type of cartilage, absorbs shock between the thigh and shin bones. Both are important to knee structure.

Osteoarthritis causes damage to both of these cartilage types. Often called wear-and-tear arthritis, this condition causes wear of the articular cartilage and tears in the meniscus.

As this process progresses, the cartilage surfaces become rough and uneven. Eventually, the bone under the cartilage is exposed. As the knee joint bends back and forth, these rough surfaces can cause the noises you hear.

Recap

Your knee contains two different types of cartilage. Osteoarthritis happens when these two types of cartilage wear down and develop tears.

What Causes a Noisy Knee?

The most common noise from the knee joint is called crepitus. That's the rough grinding you may both feel and hear. If you place the palm of your hand on the kneecap and bend your knee back and forth, it may feel like sandpaper in your knee.

Crepitus can happen when rough cartilage surfaces grind over each other. While osteoarthritis is developing, bone spurs will sometimes make the grinding worse. These are small projections of abnormally formed bone.

Other knee sounds include popping and snapping. These sounds are often much louder than crepitus but occur less often. They may happen when your knee is in a certain position or when you move it a certain way. Not all motion will cause these kinds of sounds.

Normal pops and snaps can occur when tendons snap over the bone surrounding the joint. They may also be a sign of cartilage damage inside the joint. If the sound is isolated, it's probably not a cause for concern. Doctors typically worry when there is significant pain, swelling, or other symptoms.

Recap

Knee sounds can happen when rough cartilage grinds together. Popping sounds can be normal, but they can also be a sign of worn cartilage. 

Noisy Knee and Osteoarthritis

Researchers have looked into what knee noise tells you about your chance of developing arthritis in the joint. In these studies, they asked people to rate:

  • The noise levels of their knee
  • How much crepitus they notice

Researchers followed these people to see who ended up with arthritis. Their findings indicate that people with noisier knees were more likely to develop arthritis in that joint.

Doctors think crepitus is often an early sign of joint degeneration. It doesn't mean, though, that you'll develop late-stage arthritis that requires invasive treatment. It just ups the likelihood that you'll have osteoarthritis someday. Not everyone with knee noise develops arthritis, and plenty of people without joint noises do develop it.

What You Can Do About Your Noisy Knees

So, you have a noisy knee, and now you're worried you are going to get arthritis. What should you do next?

You can take steps to help prevent the progression of arthritis. Most importantly, take care of your joints:

  • Keep your weight down
  • Strengthen your muscles
  • Get regular exercise

Many people worry that exercise will speed up cartilage loss. In general, it doesn't. Exercise helps with weight control and nourishes your joints. High-impact exercise can be hard on the joints, though, so choose low-impact activities such as:

  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Yoga

These kinds of activities are easier to tolerate and are beneficial to your joints.

Other things you can do to keep your knees healthy include:

In later stages of osteoarthritis, joint replacement surgery may be an option. A surgeon removes the damaged cartilage and bone and replaces them with an artificial implant made of metal and plastic. This treatment is usually only done when the cartilage has completely worn away.

Recap

Noisy knees can be a sign that you may develop arthritis. You can slow or prevent the progression of arthritis by making certain lifestyle improvements and taking joint-nourishing supplements.

Summary

You may notice creaking, popping, or crunching sounds in your knee. This can happen because of damage to the cartilage in your joints. Research has found that people who have these kinds of noises in the knee are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.

You can prevent the progression of arthritis by keeping your weight down, engaging in low-impact exercise, and eating a healthy diet.

A Word From Verywell

Your noisy knees may make you more likely to develop arthritis, but it's not a guarantee that you will. The noise itself doesn't mean you need treatment. However, it is a reason to take simple steps to improve your joint health so you can keep your knees healthy and active for a long time.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mora JC, Przkora R, Cruz-Almeida Y. Knee osteoarthritis: pathophysiology and current treatment modalitiesJ Pain Res. 2018;11:2189–2196. doi:10.2147/JPR.S154002

  2. Song SJ, Park CH, Liang H, Kim SJ. Noise around the kneeClin Orthop Surg. 2018;10(1):1–8. doi:10.4055/cios.2018.10.1.1

  3. Roos EM, Arden NK. Strategies for the prevention of knee osteoarthritisNat Rev Rheumatol. 2015;12(2):92-101. doi:10.1038/nrrheum.2015.135

  4. Jerosch J. Effects of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate on cartilage metabolism in OA: outlook on other nutrient partners especially omega-3 fatty acidsInt J Rheumatol. 2011;2011:969012. doi:10.1155/2011/969012

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