A study in Malaysia reported that one-third of older people have knee pain.
Among them, Malays were the highest group suffering from this pain, followed by Indians and Chinese.
The study also said that you will be more likely to experience knee pain if you are female, have no partner, have a lower educational level, and are Malay or Indian.
The risk will further increase if you are obese, or have heart disease and/or hypertension (high blood pressure).
Knee pain interferes with sleep, makes it difficult to get going after resting and changes your way of doing everyday activities.
The most common cause of knee pain in the elderly is osteoarthritis.
However, knee pain may also arise from other causes, including injury and inflammatory arthritis.
Knee tumours also present with knee pain, but usually comes with other symptoms such as weight loss, fatigue, and occasionally, a low-grade fever.
Among individuals with severe knee osteoarthritis, half report having at least one fall in the preceding year.
Falls are scary things. They can cause pain, bruises, muscle injury, fractures (hip, elbow and wrist), or even death.
After having a fall, older persons tend to develop an increase in anxiety.
They no longer want to go out, or even walk to the nearest shop or park.
They restrict their activities, physical functions and social participation, and prefer to be sedentary for fear of falling again.
Over time, they are more likely to develop muscle weakness or sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass and strength), which actually increases the risk of future falls.
Limiting physical functions and social participation are also associated with depression and stress.
Hence, it is not surprising that falls have been found to be associated with reduced quality of life and increase in mental health problems.
Treating the pain
Treatment of knee pain varies from non-operative to operative procedures, depending on the cause of the pain.
These include medications, management of diet, physiotherapy, psychological treatment and surgery.
Medication for osteoarthritis is usually painkillers.
Another type of medication usually prescribed is one that can help reduce the inflammation or infection of the joints.
Older persons suffering from knee pain may also take supplements, e.g. glucosamine sulphates and chondroitin sulphates to help the body to build new cartilage.
Patients with knee pain can also opt for intra-articular knee injections, which use a synthetic joint fluid or plasma-rich platelets (PRP) derived from the patient’s own body, to be injected into the knee joint.
Although normal-weight older people may still get knee pain, being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing knee pain, due to the simple fact that the knee absorbs as much as half of your body weight with each step that you take.
That pressure, plus normal wear and tear, will cause the cartilages of the knee to deteriorate and thin out, while muscles and ligaments get weaker.
You may also be more prone to this deterioration if you have a family history of osteoarthritis or a previous knee injury.
A visit to the dietitian is essential if you plan to reduce and control your body weight, to help reduce the impact on your knees.
Your healthcare provider will also discuss the appropriate interventions that you can or should do in order to improve the condition of your knee joints.
Physiotherapists use several modalities to ease knee pain, such as heat and cold therapy, electrical therapy, and even interferential and ultrasound therapy.
Occupational therapists, on the other hand, will help you employ joint protection strategies, as well as the correct way of moving the knees while performing your daily activities.
Exercise involving the knee is also a good way to help reduce knee pain, although many people are reluctant to exercise their knees.
Exercise has a three-fold benefit: improving fitness level, reducing friction in the long run and reducing body weight – thus, reducing the impact on joints.
Like muscles, joints should be exercised and will become more robust with appropriate use as supporting structures are reinforced.
Similarly, overuse can be detrimental, although this is less common in older adults.
In the worse case scenario where the cartilage is gone and the bones rub against each other, causing pain, stiffness and swelling, surgery is an option.
However, whether or not surgery will help varies depending on the cause of the pain.
Therefore, do not let knee pain or the threat of it interrupt your life.
By employing some of the above strategies, you can help keep your knees as young as you feel.
Dr Mohamad Hasif Jaafar is the manager of the Research Management Centre at Perdana University. Perdana University-Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Clinical Associate Professor of Orthopaedics Dr Agus Iwan Foead contributed to this article, which is courtesy of Perdana University. For more information, email email@example.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
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