Noisy, popping knees may be more than just annoying; they might mean that osteoarthritis is around the corner, which can lead to total knee replacement surgery.

If your knees make a grinding, grating, popping or cracking sound, you may be at an increased risk for developing osteoarthritis in the joint.

Osteoarthritis is a wearing down of the cartilage. If it wears down enough, in which there is bone-on-bone contact, this will cause pain – pain that’s often bad enough to necessitate a total knee replacement. Mobility is also affected.

This information comes from the Osteoarthritis Initiative that analyzed 3,500 participants.

The participants were at high risk for OA. Within a year of the study, some of the subjects developed OA.

Out of these participants, over three-fourths had signs of OA on imaging at the start of the study – but at the start they did not have frequent knee pain.

So an X-ray can show signs of the worn-down cartilage even though the patient does not have pain.

But if such patients have noisy knees, this means that they are at higher risk for acquiring pain within 12 months when compared to people who do not have noisy or popping knees.

If the condition progresses, and pain does not respond to medication or other conservative therapy, total knee replacement is the only recourse.

Dr. Grace Lo, lead study author, points out in the report that future studies of people with X-ray evidence of osteoarthritis but no pain, but who have noisy or popping knee sounds, can be very useful in identifying who will eventually develop knee pain.