A sound technique for detecting knee osteoarthritis

Researchers have developed a portable device that uses body sounds to asses the health of a patient's knee (Image: Shutterstock)

Whether from a personal trainer, doctor, or purveyor of miracle-berries you met at the local farmer's market, you've probably heard the phrase, "listen to your body." UK researchers have developed a new technique for detecting knee arthritis that takes this idea literally, using sound waves to reveal the health of a person's knee.

Diagnosing osteoarthritis of the knee generally involves x-rays or MRI scans, but a research team led by Lancaster University created a portable device that attaches microphones to a patient's knee to measure the high frequency sound waves that are produced when the patient stands up. Computer software is able to interpret these acoustic emissions to assess the health of the knee.

"Potentially, this could transform the ways in which knee osteoarthritis is assessed and treated," said Lancaster University’s Professor Goodacre. "Unlike an MRI scan, this approach can tell you what happens when the joint moves and it can also measure how the knee is changing over time."

The researchers believe the portable device could eventually find its way into clinics and hospitals to provide doctors and nurses with a quick, simple way to detect knee osteoarthritis and, through regular tests, see how well a patient's knee is responding to treatment.

But noisy knees could be just the start with Professor Goodacre saying the team's research potentially heralds a new medical assessment technique based on interpreting body sounds.

"Researchers are only just starting to explore the idea of listening to structures like joints, arteries or the intestines and seeing if the sounds they make can tell us about diseases," said Professor Goodacre. "So this is a new field and the UK is leading in this area."

The research team, which includes partners from the University of Central Lancashire, Manchester University, the NHS and industry, has received a £560,000 (approx. US$898,000) grant from the Medical Research Council that will be used to further test the technique on over 200 patients with various forms of osteoarthritis.

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