If you’re hearing a snap, crackle and pop and you’re nowhere near a breakfast table, welcome to the world of knee crepitus. It’s a term for the sounds the joint makes, and in a lot of instances it’s nothing to worry about – it’s just tiny gas bubbles that have accumulated in the synovial fluid bursting, which is a natural occurrence.
However, certain sounds can also be the first indications of a damaged knee joint. So, the results of a new study from Lancaster University have caused a lot of people in the medical community to sit up and, well, listen.
The study in question, which was published in the medical journal PLOS ONE last month, has advanced the idea of a new way of diagnosing and assessing knee osteoarthritis, which involves attaching small microphones to the knee and detecting high frequency sounds from the joint components as the person being evaluated does nothing more strenuous than performing simple sitting and standing movements.
Sounding out knee OA
The signals – known as ‘acoustic emissions’, are then analysed on a computer in order to harvest data on the health of the knee. The analysis is based on sound waveforms during different movement phases. It’s the first technique of its kind in the field of knee OA analysis, and the results are encouraging to say the least: not only can the technique distinguish between healthy and OA-afflicted knees, but it also can be used in both a general practice and hospital setting.
The research project has been running since 2013 and has been conducted by a large multi-disciplinary team led by Lancaster University, with assistance from the Universities of Central Lancashire, Manchester and Cumbria, as well as the NHS in Lancashire and Cumbria. It has also leant upon the expertise of two businesses that specialise in technologies for acoustic sensing and cartilage measurement. And the goal is to create a fast, convenient and effective method of detecting the causes of knee crepitus – be they common-or-garden knee OA, chondromalacia patella, patellofemoral syndrome or any other knee-related injury
Faster, bigger, better?
“This work is very exciting because it involves scientists and clinicians working together as a team to develop an entirely new approach,” said Emeritus Professor Goodacre of Lancaster University, who led the research. “Potentially, this could transform ways in which knee OA is managed. It will enable better diagnosis and will enable treatments to be tailored more precisely according to individual knee condition. It will also enable faster, bigger and better clinical trials of new treatments”.
If all goes well, we could be seeing the development and production of a non-invasive and portable device which could be used by the medical community to detect any changes and possible ailments in a patients’ knee with minimal fuss or discomfort, providing a faster, more cost-effective, more convenient and more refined assessment than any other method available at present. We’ll definitely be keeping an ear to the ground on this one.