Understanding and Treating Elderly Knee Pain

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As we age, our bodies undergo various changes, and one area that often experiences the impact of these changes is our knees. Elderly knee pain is a common concern that many older adults face, and it can significantly affect their mobility and quality of life. In this article, we will delve into the complexities of elderly knee pain, explore its various causes, discuss treating knee pain in elderly available to provide relief and improve the overall well-being of older individuals, and exercises for seniors.

Common Causes of Knee Pain in the Elderly


Many things may lead to knee pain, but arthritis is usually the main cause. Osteoarthritis is a condition in which the protective cartilage in the knee deteriorates over time, typically occurring in older individuals. Each time the knee is subjected to a force, it absorbs a shock that is 1.5 times the body weight of the person. Over time, this wear and tear damage and the strain on the knee can weaken the menisci, or pads of cartilage in the knee. When the cushioning cartilage between the bones has worn away, the bones may start to rub together, leading to inflammation, reduced mobility, and discomfort.

Your knee pain may also be due to something other than osteoarthritis. These may include injuries like a fracture, as well as issues such as a dislocated kneecap, and other types of arthritis like gout or rheumatoid arthritis.

Degenerative Conditions and Knee Pain


Osteoarthritis of the knee is a condition that can cause deterioration of the cartilage in the joint, resulting in bones coming into contact with one another. This can lead to pain, stiffness, and swelling. Currently, there is no cure, however, there are treatments available that can slow down the advancement of the condition and help to reduce any discomfort or pain. In more serious cases, surgery may be necessary. This condition is quite common, with 46% of people developing it during their lifetime. Women are more prone than men, and it usually starts to appear after 40. Knee osteoarthritis can be accelerated due to either injury or genetics. Symptoms that are associated with this condition include knee pain, difficulty when running, going up stairs, or kneeling. Eventually, this can cause the joint to become unsteady or shaky.

Diagnosing Knee Pain in Older Adults


Patients with knee pain will undergo a medical interview, and based on the information gained from the interview, patients will undergo a focused examination of the knee and the associated regions. This will be followed by a focused physical examination of the knee and associated areas. Depending on the results, the patient may be requested to have X-rays taken of the knee, both standing and plain, and an MRI scan if necessary.

Exercise for Knee Pain Management

It is not uncommon to experience pain in the knee due to the complex nature of the joint. Walking, climbing stairs, and other everyday activities can be tough on the knee, resulting in as much as 40% of physical therapy visits. Generally, exercising is usually the most beneficial for knee pain caused by arthritis, however if any popping, swelling, buckling, or locking of the knee occurs, medical attention should be obtained.

Side leg raise – Lie on your side with your legs outstretched. Bend your arm and place your head in your hand. Maintaining an extended posture, lift your upper leg to the roof, stay in that position for a few moments, then lower it. Do a few repetitions, then switch legs.

Single leg lift – Lie down on the floor on your sides. Tighten the muscles of one foot, then lift it up. Hold it there for a moment before bringing it back down. Do the same exercise with the other leg after repeating it a few times.

Hamstring stretch – Lay down on your back with your arms resting at your sides. Grab hold of one of your legs with both hands, firmly gripping the area behind your thigh. Raise the leg until it is in the air with your foot flexed. Attempt to stretch the leg as far as feasible without stiffening the knee.

Quadriceps stretch – Position your feet so that they are about shoulder-width apart and securely on the ground. Bend one knee and raise the heel of the foot towards your backside. Stretch back and take hold of your foot with your hand. Hold your position for a few moments, then slowly lower your foot to the floor. Repeat the same process with your other leg.

Treatment Options for Knee Pain in the Elderly


Depending on the cause of the knee pain, a treatment plan will be customized to your needs. Your orthopaedic doctor will offer a comprehensive range of services to address your condition, whether it requires surgical or non-surgical intervention. These can include: medications to manage knee pain, modifications to your lifestyle to help manage the pain, bracing to protect and provide support to the knee, physiotherapy to improve function and movement, procedures and injections to reduce pain, and knee replacement for patients with severe osteoarthritis.

Lifestyle Modifications to Prevent and Manage Knee Pain

Making alterations to your lifestyle, such as engaging in more physical activity and exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight, can have a major impact on osteoarthritis. Training yourself in relaxation and coping techniques can help to ensure balance in your life, and give you a stronger sense of control over your arthritis, as well as a more positive attitude. If you would like to know how to begin, contact your doctor or physical therapist.

Physical activity – There is often an incorrect belief that when a joint is in pain, it should be rested. However, not using the joint enough can lead to muscle weakness, worsening joint pain and stiffness. Light to moderate physical activity can protect joints by building up the muscles around them, increasing blood flow to the joint and aiding in the normal regeneration of the joint.


Protect your joints – It is important to both keep your joints moving and to stay away from activities that put too much strain on them. This will lower your odds of getting hurt and help your joints stay healthy for a longer time. Additionally, avoiding joint stress will help reduce pain and improve joint function.

Manage your weight – There is no single definition of a healthy weight, as it varies from person to person due to body composition, age, sex, lifestyle, and other factors. It is recommended to speak to a healthcare professional to determine the best weight for you. Carrying excess body weight has been linked to an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis in your load-bearing joints (knees, hips, ankles, spine, feet).

Eat healthy – There is currently no strong proof that the foods you consume will have an effect on arthritis. But being overweight can put extra pressure on your joints. Eating healthy can assist in managing your weight, as well as providing your body with the energy, vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly.

When to See a Doctor for Knee Pain

It is necessary to seek medical attention if you have persistent, nagging or intense knee pain. Swelling and an inability to bend or put weight on the knee can also be an indicator to make an appointment with a doctor.If the knee pain has not gone away within a couple of days or a week or two, it is wise to consult a doctor. A doctor is necessary to accurately diagnose the knee pain, as treatments vary depending on the diagnosis. Therefore, it is important to consult a knowledgeable orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine specialist.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What are the common causes of knee pain in the elderly?

Knee pain is a prevalent issue among the elderly, often arising from a combination of age-related changes and underlying medical conditions. The most common causes include osteoarthritis, where the protective cartilage within the knee joint gradually wears away, leading to pain, inflammation, and reduced mobility. Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder, can also affect the knees, causing chronic pain and stiffness. Additionally, meniscus tears, bursitis, tendinitis, and gout contribute to knee discomfort. Fractures resulting from falls or accidents, obesity-related strain on the joints, previous injuries, osteoporosis-related bone weakening, and altered leg alignment due to bowed legs or knock knees are further causes of knee pain in the elderly. Proper diagnosis by a healthcare professional is essential for tailored treatment plans that address the specific cause of knee pain.

How does aging contribute to knee pain and discomfort?

Aging plays a significant role in the development of knee pain and discomfort in several ways. As people age, the cartilage within the knee joint tends to degrade naturally, leading to a condition known as osteoarthritis. This deterioration reduces the joint’s ability to absorb shock and provide smooth movement, resulting in pain, stiffness, and limited mobility. Ligaments and tendons may also become less flexible over time, making the knee joint less stable and more susceptible to injury.

Are there any preventive measures to reduce the risk of knee pain as we age?

There are proactive measures that can help reduce the risk of knee pain as we age. Engaging in regular exercise is crucial, as it helps strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee joint, providing better support and stability. Low-impact activities like swimming, cycling, and walking are particularly beneficial for maintaining joint health without putting excessive stress on the knees.
Maintaining a healthy weight is another key preventive measure. Excess weight places additional strain on the knee joints, accelerating wear and tear. A balanced diet rich in nutrients can contribute to overall joint health by supporting cartilage integrity and reducing inflammation.

What lifestyle changes can help manage knee pain in the elderly?

Adopting certain lifestyle changes can be highly effective in managing knee pain in the elderly. First and foremost, maintaining a healthy weight is essential. Shedding excess pounds can alleviate the strain on the knee joints, reducing pain and inflammation. Engaging in regular low-impact knee pain exercises for seniors, such as swimming, yoga, and tai chi, can help strengthen muscles around the knees, improve flexibility, and enhance overall joint function.
Incorporating an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help manage knee pain. Certain foods, like fatty fish, turmeric, and berries, are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Staying well-hydrated also plays a role in joint health by ensuring proper lubrication of the joints.

What are the non-surgical treatment options available for elderly knee pain?

Non-surgical treatment options offer valuable alternatives for managing elderly knee pain while avoiding the risks and recovery associated with surgery. One prominent approach is physical therapy, where specially designed exercises and stretches are employed to strengthen the muscles around the knee joint, improve flexibility, and enhance overall joint function. Physical therapists can customize treatment plans based on individual needs, ensuring gradual progress and pain relief.
Medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, can also play a role in alleviating knee pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce inflammation and pain, offering temporary relief. Topical creams and ointments can provide localized comfort, targeting the source of discomfort directly.

When should an elderly individual consider knee replacement surgery?

Knee replacement surgery is typically considered when non-surgical treatments have not provided adequate relief, and knee pain has significantly impaired an elderly individual’s quality of life and daily activities. The decision to undergo knee replacement surgery is a collaborative one between the patient, their healthcare provider, and an orthopedic surgeon.
Factors that may indicate the need for knee replacement surgery include persistent and severe knee pain that limits mobility and independence, difficulty walking, climbing stairs, or performing routine tasks. X-rays and other diagnostic tests can reveal the extent of joint damage, helping the healthcare team assess whether surgical intervention is necessary.

How can physical therapy and exercises benefit seniors with knee pain?

Physical therapy and targeted exercises can offer substantial benefits to seniors dealing with knee pain. These interventions play a crucial role in managing pain, improving mobility, and enhancing overall quality of life. A skilled physical therapist can develop a personalized exercise program tailored to the individual’s specific needs and limitations.
Physical therapy focuses on strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee joint, improving flexibility, and promoting better alignment. These exercises help to stabilize the knee, reduce stress on the joint, and enhance joint function. Strengthening the muscles also provides better support to the knee, reducing the risk of further injury and pain.

Are there any specific dietary recommendations to support knee health in older adults?

Maintaining a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet is essential for supporting knee health in older adults. Incorporating certain foods and nutrients can help manage inflammation, promote joint health, and support overall well-being.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce joint pain and stiffness. Foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries, spinach, and colorful vegetables, can help combat oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.


  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21750-osteoarthritis-knee
  2. https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/knee-pain-aging
  3. https://www.theorthopaedicandpainpractice.com/service/knee-pain/
  4. https://www.theorthopaedicandpainpractice.com/knee-pain-in-older-patients-ages-55/

Dr Yong Ren’s Profile

Dr Yong Ren graduated from the National University of Singapore’s Medical faculty and embarked on his orthopaedic career soon after. Upon completion of his training locally, he served briefly as an orthopaedic trauma surgeon in Khoo Teck Puat hospital before embarking on sub-specialty training in Switzerland at the famed Inselspital in Bern.

He underwent sub-specialty training in pelvic and spinal surgery, and upon his return to Singapore served as head of the orthopaedic trauma team till 2019. He continues to serve as Visiting Consultant to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

Well versed in a variety of orthopaedic surgeries, he also served as a member of the country council for the local branch of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Osteosynthesefragen (Trauma) in Singapore. He was also involved in the training of many of the young doctors in Singapore and was appointed as an Assistant Professor by the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. Prior to his entry into the private sector, he also served as core faculty for orthopaedic resident training by the National Healthcare Group.

Dr Yong Ren brings to the table his years of experience as a teacher and trainer in orthopaedic surgery. With his expertise in minimally invasive fracture surgery, pelvic reconstructive surgery, hip and knee surgery as well as spinal surgery, he is uniquely equipped with the tools and expertise necessary to help you on your road to recovery.

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Sarah Taylor

Obstetrics & Gynaecology