In older people, scheduled exercise, regular meals and the periodic warming and cooling of joints could relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
The research, by scientists at the University of Manchester, may also help explain why older people are more prone to developing this common joint disorder.
The team in the Faculty of Life Sciences has established for the first time that cartilage cells have a functioning body clock that switches on and off genes controlling tissue function.
The rhythm of the cartilage clock perhaps goes some way to explain why osteoarthritis sufferers find the symptoms of the disease worse at certain times of the day.
When Dr Qing-Jun Meng and his team studied cartilage tissue in older mice they found that the tissue's body clock was 40 percent weaker than in younger mice.
This suggested that clock deterioration could contribute to an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis in later life.
The researchers then looked at cartilage cells affected by damage similar to osteoarthritis and found that components of the body clock are altered during the early stages of the disease.
The research is published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism.