Listening to "noisy knees" can help diagnose and assess osteoarthritis (OA), researchers have shown.
A study led by Emeritus Professor John Goodacre of Lancaster University involved attaching small microphones to the knees of people with knee OA and detecting high-frequency sounds from the joint as they performed sitting-standing movements.
These signals, known as acoustic emissions, are then computer-analysed to give information about the health of the knee. The analysis is based on sound waveforms during different phases of movement.
The study, published in PLOS ONE, is the first to investigate the use of this technique in a large local cohort of people previously diagnosed with knee OA. According to Lancaster University, the results show that the technique can distinguish between healthy and OA knees, and that it works well both in general practice and hospital settings.
The findings pave the way for the technique to be used in research and clinical practice.
"Potentially, this could transform ways in which knee OA is managed," said Professor Goodacre. "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."
To support the analysis of acoustic emissions in clinical settings, researchers are now developing a non-invasive portable device that could be used by health professionals to see whether patients' knees are changing or responding to treatment. This is expected to provide a quicker, cheaper, more convenient and more refined assessment than currently available methods.