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How to Prevent Knee Pain in Older Adults?

The knee joint of the human body is the largest joint in the body. The knees support approximately one and a half times a person’s body weight with each step. The pressure alone is enough to cause stress on them. Coupled with the years of use associated with older age, the effects can begin to take a toll.  

With age, muscles weaken. The cartilage of the knee, which is a shock absorber, begins to deteriorate. With the loss of cartilage, the bones of the leg and knee rub together, which can cause knee pain.

Tips for Managing Knee Pain in the Elderly

The presence of knee pain does not mean it has to control one’s life.  There are several ways to help manage and reduce knee pain in the elderly.  Knee pain may be managed using non-pharmacologic (without medication) measures or pharmacologic (with medication) measures.

Non-Pharmacologic Measures to Manage Knee Pain Include:

Strengthen Muscles. Muscle strength gives increased stability to the knee joint and helps muscles absorb the stress that is placed on the knee when bearing weight. 

Maintain a healthy weight. Each pound of excess body weight equals the equivalent of 4 pounds of pressure on the joints.  For example, a 5 pound weight gain would add 20 pounds of pressure to the knees.

Increase range of motion. People with a good range of motion tend to have fewer symptoms of knee pain. 

Wear shoes with good support. Shoes that have gel inserts or cushioned soles help to absorb some of the shocks that are often felt by the knees when walking. 

Use knee braces. Some health providers will recommend wearing a brace for knee pain. Simple knee sleeves and supports are usually available in pharmacies or you can order it on the internet. Check some of the best knee braces for seniors here.

Do Low Impact Exercises. Low or non-impact exercises, such as swimming, riding a stationary bike or resistance band exercises can help strengthen the muscles of the leg, which will increase knee support and reduce pain.

Pharmacologic Measures to Manage Knee Pain include:

The goal of medication management is the relief of pain and improved functioning. Your doctor may recommend taking Tylenol, Non-steroidal drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen), or steroids (prednisone).

If pain is not managed by any of those pharmacologic options, a physician may recommend narcotic pain relief. Narcotics are, however, preferred only after other medication management is ineffective. 

Common Causes of Knee Pain

There are several potential causes of knee pain. In older adults, the most common are associated with bone and joint stress or inflammation. Some examples of conditions that result in knee pain include:

Arthritis is a musculoskeletal disease that causes inflammation, stiffness and joint pain. There are two common types of arthritis in the elderly, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis that results from breakdown of joint cartilage and underlying bone. We separate two types of osteoarthritis.

Primary osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage between your bones degenerates. As you age, the water content in your cartilage decreases, making it weaker and more susceptible to damage.

Secondary osteoarthritis, on the other hand, is not related to aging and is caused by injury, disease or genetic factors. Both types of osteoarthritis may affect your fingers, hips, knees, ankles or toes.

It is the most common type of degenerative joint disease that affects adults 60 years old or older. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which is an abnormal immune response to a normal body part. It’s characterized by sharp pain, swelling, and deformity in the joints of fingers, feet, and wrists.

Elderly people with rheumatoid arthritis often experience prolonged morning stiffness and warm, tender and swollen joints, including the knees.

Tearing of the Patellar Tendon: The patellar tendon connects the bottom of the patella ( knee cap) to the shin bone. Patellar tendon tears can happen to anyone. While athletes are commonly affected,  seniors aged 65 and above are especially prone to this injury due to tendon degeneration.

Risk Factors for Developing Knee Pain

Like any illness or disease, there are risk factors for developing knee pain. Understanding what the risk factors are is essential to creating a plan to prevent (or at least delay) the effects of aging on the knee.

Some common risk factors include:

Weak muscles: When muscles are weak, they are less capable of supporting bones and joints, which can lead to increased pressure on the joints causing pain. Low-impact exercises are recommended.

However, depending on your condition, your orthopedic specialist may advise you to seek treatment first before exercising.

Dehydration: Cartilage is comprised of approximately 75% water.  Therefore, staying well hydrated is crucial for joints to work properly.  Insufficient water intake can result in greater pain for osteoarthritis patients.

Obesity: As mentioned above, the knees support the weight of the body with every step.  The more a person weighs, the greater the pressure that is put on the joint cartilage, which can trigger the onset and/or progression of osteoarthritis. 

Low Calcium Levels:  Calcium deficiency can lead to osteopenia and osteoporosis. Osteopenia reduces the mineral density of bones, which can cause osteoporosis. Osteoporosis makes bones thinner and more susceptible to fractures. It will lead to pain in the joints, poor posture (which can cause more stress on the knees) and can lead to disability. 


Age-related changes in the joints is a naturally occurring process.  Among common age-related changes, knee pain frequently occurs in older adults, especially in people aged 60 years or older.  However, there are measures to help reduce or relieve knee pain.

Before beginning any exercise or medication regimen (including over-the-counter medications), it is important to visit your primary care provider for an assessment to determine the underlying cause of knee pain and to develop a suitable plan of care.                      

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