Does Knee Creaking Mean You'll Develop Arthritis?

Knee creaking can be a sign that you'll eventually develop osteoarthritis (OA), but not always. Frequent, loud creaking is a better indicator of joint issues than occasional creaking, which many people experience from time to time without concern.

Early treatment of OA can help slow or stop its progression, so it's important to mention persistent noisy knees to your healthcare provider.

This article looks at creaking knees, what the evidence says about their cause, and what you can do to improve your joint health and reduce creakiness.

Woman running down stairs
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How Arthritis Causes Knee Creaking

Cartilage is the firm but flexible connective tissue that helps bones glide smoothly against each other and absorbs shock between the thigh and shin bones.

Use, injury, and osteoarthritis, often called wear-and-tear arthritis, can damage or wear away cartilage. This makes the surfaces rough so they grind against each other. This causes creaking, or in medical terms, crepitus.

The knee joint is where three bones come together:

Meanwhile, bone spurs sometimes make the grinding worse. These are small projections of abnormally formed bone.

If your knees creak and you have any of these other symptoms, the creaking may be related to osteoarthritis:

  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Trouble walking
  • Swelling in the knee
  • Pain that is worse in the morning or after you've been sitting
  • Pain that seems better or worse as the weather changes
  • Feeling the knee give way when you put weight on it

Researchers have also looked into what knee creaking says about your chance of developing OA in the future. In studies, they've asked people to rate:

  • If they notice creaking
  • How often they notice it

Researchers followed these people to see who ended up with knee OA. They found that those who noticed noisier knees were more likely to develop OA in those joints.

While crepitus may often be an early sign of joint degeneration, it doesn't guarantee you'll develop osteoarthritis. Not everyone with knee noise develops OA, and plenty of people without joint noises do.

Other Causes of Knee Sounds

If you notice occasional creaks and you don't have other knee symptoms, it may be nothing to worry about. More frequent noises may indicate a knee condition, be it osteoarthritis or something else.

It's normal for your knee to make other sounds like 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 are not usually a sign of arthritis, especially if they only occur occasionally.

Sometimes, knee sounds like crepitus and popping/snapping can have other causes, including:

  • Gas bubbles: The most common cause of knee pops and cracks is gas bubbles trapped in the joint. These harmless bubbles will make a popping sound when you bend your knees.  
  • Cartilage injury: If your knee makes popping and snapping sounds and you also have symptoms such as pain with movement or trouble straightening your knee, it may be a sign of cartilage damage such as a meniscus tear. When cartilage breaks off inside your knee, the pieces can cause popping or snapping sounds.
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner's knee): This condition is caused by a misalignment of your kneecap. When the kneecap is too high, it can rub against the femur, causing creaky knees and knee pain. Despite the name, runner's knee doesn't only happen to people who run. 

What You Can Do About Your Creaking Knees

Having knee creaking can be beneficial, as it alerts you to a possible problem. And you can take steps to help prevent the progression of OA.

Most importantly, protect your joint health by:

  • Keeping your weight down
  • Strengthening your muscles
  • Getting regular exercise

Some people worry that exercise may speed up cartilage loss. In general, it doesn't. Exercise helps with weight control and nourishes your joints (by promoting healthy circulation).

High-impact exercises like jumping and running can be hard on the joints, though. 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:

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You don't need to see a healthcare provider for knees that are occasionally creaky. If your creaky knees are accompanied by pain, however, it may be time to have them evaluated.

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if:

  • Your pain doesn't go away after a period of rest and home treatments like ice and anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs)
  • Your pain is severe and prevents you from putting weight on your knee


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 OA by keeping your weight down, engaging in low-impact exercise, and eating a healthy diet. If your creaky knees are accompanied by pain, especially severe pain that does not go away with rest and/or pain medication, see your healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Your noisy knees may make you more likely to develop OA, but they're 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.

8 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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Additional Reading

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.