Do Your Knees Crackle and Pop?

Do Your Knees Crackle and Pop?

Knees that “pop,” “click” or “crackle” may sometimes be headed toward arthritis in the near future, a new study suggests.

It’s common for the knees to get a little noisy on occasion, and hearing a “crack” during your yoga class is probably not something to worry about, experts say.

But in the new study, middle-aged and older adults who said their knees often crackled were more likely to develop arthritis symptoms in the next year.

Of those who complained their knees were “always” noisy, 11 percent developed knee arthritis symptoms within a year. That compared with 4.5 percent of people who said their knees “never” popped or cracked.

Everyone else fell into the middle. Of people who said their knees “sometimes” or “often” made noise, roughly 8 percent developed knee arthritis symptoms in the next year.

Doctors have a term for those joint noises: crepitus.

Patients commonly complain of it, said Dr. Grace Lo, the lead researcher on the study. She’s an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

But until now, it hasn’t been clear whether crepitus can predict symptomatic knee arthritis. That means people not only have evidence of cartilage breakdown on X-rays, but also suffer symptoms from it — namely, frequent pain and stiffness.

“Our study suggests crepitus is not completely benign,” Lo said. “It’s a sign that something is going on in the knee joint.”

Dr. Joseph Bosco, an orthopedic surgeon who wasn’t involved in the study, agreed that frequent crepitus should be checked out.

“A lot of people’s knees ‘snap’ and ‘pop,'” said Bosco, a professor at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. “Do they need to run out for knee replacements? No.”

But, he added, “if you experience crepitus regularly, get an evaluation.”

The findings, published May 4 in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, come with some caveats.

The nearly 3,500 study participants were at increased risk of developing knee arthritis symptoms to begin with, Lo explained.

The participants ranged in age from 45 to 79. Some were at risk of knee arthritis simply because of old age, while others had risk factors such as obesity or a history of a significant knee injury.

So it’s not clear, Lo said, whether the findings would translate to — for example — a 35-year-old whose knees crack when she runs.

Plus, even though the study participants were initially free of knee arthritis symptoms, some did have signs of arthritis damage on an X-ray.

And it was in that group where crepitus was a red flag: People who “often” or “always” had noisy knees were nearly three times more likely to develop knee arthritis symptoms as those who “never” had crepitus.

According to Lo, the findings could be useful in everyday medical practice. “If patients are complaining of frequent cracking or popping in the knees,” she said, “get an X-ray.”

If that turns up signs of arthritic damage, Lo said, then the risk of progressing to symptoms in the near future is probably significant.

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill that can stop arthritis in progress. But, Lo said, for patients who are heavy, weight loss can help.

Some, she added, might benefit from strengthening the muscles that support the knees.

How to Keep Your Kids Out of the ER This Summer

How to Keep Your Kids Out of the ER This Summer

Make sure safety is part of kids’ summer fun.

“With kids spending more time outdoors, there is more opportunity for everything from broken bones, sprains, strains and lacerations, to tick bites and heat stroke,” said Dr. James Dwyer, director of emergency medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y.

“Accidents will happen, but there are many steps parents can take to help prevent injuries without spoiling the fun,” he added in a hospital news release.

Children should always wear shoes. “When kids shed their shoes, they are at risk for splinters and cuts from broken glass as well as tick bites,” Dwyer said, adding that foot cuts are among the most common summer injuries his hospital treats.

When bicycling, skateboarding or inline skating, children should wear proper safety gear. That includes a helmet as well as wrist, elbow and knee pads.

Trampoline injuries are also common during the summer, and some cause lasting damage. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents not to let their kids use home trampolines.

Ticks are another threat. They can cause illnesses such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. When walking or hiking in the woods, wear long sleeves and long pants tucked into your socks, and use insect repellent that contains DEET. When you come inside, check skin and clothing for ticks, then shower, Dwyer advised.

Children should also drink plenty of water and avoid overexertion to prevent heat-related illness.

If you have a swimming pool, it should be fenced with a gate that locks. When kids are swimming, an attentive adult should be present.

“Swimming lessons are essential for children who are not strong swimmers,” Dwyer said. “A Coast Guard approved life vest should be worn until the child can safely swim in deep water without assistance.”

Never leave a child unattended in a car.

“The temperature inside a vehicle can rise so quickly that it can kill a child in as little as 15 minutes. Be mindful when there is a change in your morning routine or if you are distracted by other events in your life, because that’s when a moment’s inattention can turn into a tragedy,” Dwyer said.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on summer safety.

SOURCE: Northern Westchester Hospital, news release

Don’t Let Summer Strain Your Back

Don’t Let Summer Strain Your Back

Summer is the time when everyone dives into yard work and takes family vacations. But all that time spent bending, lifting and traveling can strain your back, spine experts say.

An estimated 3.7 million Americans sought care for back pain and injuries at doctors’ offices in the summer of 2014, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

“Many back injuries occur from sudden movements during daily activities such as bending, lifting and twisting,” said Dr. Afshin Razi, a spokesperson for the academy.

“Always be mindful of the way you’re positioning your body and practice safe lifting techniques during these motions. Keep the core muscles in your back and abdomen strong and flexible. Strengthening your core muscles will help to support your spine,” Razi said in an AAOS news release.

The academy offers these tips for protecting yourself from back injuries during the summer:

  • Lift heavy items with your legs instead of your back, and don’t bend over. Bend your knees instead and keep your back straight.
  • Get someone to help you lift heavy objects. Turn to your friends or family or hire someone to assist.
  • Pack as lightly as possible when traveling, and try to spread heavier items among several boxes or bags.
  • Take breaks, regardless of whether you’re sitting or working, and stretch between tasks.
  • Watch your posture and sit with your back in a slightly arched position. Your chair should support your lower back and your head and shoulders should be upright.
  • Be careful about your footwear. Your shoes should fit properly and have rubber non-skid soles to protect you from falling, especially when you’re traveling or working outdoors.
  • If you’re outside, make sure hoses, rakes and garden tools are out of your path so you don’t trip over them.
  • Pets like to be underfoot and can pose a tripping hazard. Consider putting a bell on your pet so you know its location when it’s moving around.