A new imaging technique could improve the diagnosis of osteoarthritis (OA) and reduce the need for hip replacement
and knee surgery
, scientists from New York have revealed.
OA is the most common form of arthritis, causing joint pain and disability for many over-65s.
However, if caught early, it might be possible to reduce the amount of permanent damage caused to the joints.
Researcher Dr Alexej Jerschow, who presented the findings at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society, said: "Our methods have the potential of providing early warning signs for cartilage disorders like osteoarthritis, thus potentially avoiding surgery and physical therapy later on.
"Also, the effectiveness of early preventative drug therapies can be better assessed with these methods."
The imaging method uses magnetic resonance imaging to determine the concentration of a polymer known as glycosaminogycan (GAG), which is a biomarker for OA.
GAG gives cartilage its tough, elastic properties, and low concentrations commonly indicate the onset of osteoarthritis.
Dr Jerschow said that the simple, non-invasive method could be "valuable" and may become the gold standard for testing joint health.