Do Noisy Knees Mean You'll Develop Arthritis?

What the Creaking and Crunching Could Mean

In This Article

Physically flexing and extending the knee is sometimes associated with noises like creaking, crunching, and popping. You may worry that this suggests an underlying problem. What does the evidence really show about people with noisy knees?

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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, acts as a shock absorber between the thigh and shin bones. Both types of cartilage are critical to knee structure and involved the development of osteoarthritis.

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

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

Knee Noises

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 bending your knee back and forth, it may feel like you've got sandpaper in there.

Crepitus can be the result of rough cartilage surfaces grinding over each other. Sometimes during the development of osteoarthritis, bone spurs (small projections of abnormally formed bone) will make the grinding worse.

Other knee sounds include popping and snapping, which are typically much more audible than crepitus but occur less often. They may be elicited by certain positions or movements of the joint, but not by all motion.

Normal pops and snaps can occur when tendons suddenly snap over the bone surrounding the joint, or they may be a sign of cartilage damage inside the joint. Doctors typically worry when the sound is associated with significant pain, swelling, or other symptoms rather than isolated.

The Evidence

Researchers have investigated 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 then follow these people to see who among them ends up with arthritis. Their findings indicate that it's true: people who have noisier knees are more likely than quiet-kneed people to develop arthritis in that joint.

Doctors suspect crepitus is often an early sign of joint degeneration. However, it doesn't mean you'll develop late-stage arthritis requiring invasive treatment, it just ups the likelihood that you'll have osteoarthritis someday. Not everyone with knee noise does, and plenty of people without abnormal joint noises also develop arthritis.

What You Can Do

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 accelerate cartilage loss. In general, it doesn't. Exercise helps with weight control and nourishes your joints. High-impact exercise can be problematic with osteoarthritis, but low-impact activities like cycling, swimming, and yoga are easier to tolerate and beneficial to your joints.

Other ways you can maintain healthy cartilage include:

When osteoarthritis progresses to later stages, 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 generally reserved for when the cartilage has completely worn away.

A Word From Verywell

While your noisy knees may make you more likely to develop arthritis in the joint, it's no 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.

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Article 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.
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  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

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Additional Reading
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Arthritis types. Updated April 12, 2017.