While people may experience knee pain at any age, in older adults it is typically caused by changes in the body due to aging. Those changes can include weakening of the bones, decreased muscle strength, inflammation from arthritis and other conditions.
According to the National Institutes of Health, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis among older people and a frequent cause of debilitating pain. It occurs when the cartilage that protects the knee’s bones breaks down. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 2 people may develop knee osteoarthritis by the age of 85.
The Mayo Clinic says specific signs and symptoms may accompany knee pain. They include swelling and stiffness in the knee, redness and warmth to the touch, weakness or instability, noises as the joint moves and an inability to straighten the knee fully.
Here are some tips to help individuals who experience knee pain:
- Physical Therapy. Talk with your doctor about the option to see a physical therapist. A physical therapist will prescribe a customized regimen that may improve your knee’s strength and range of motion, increase function, decrease pain and improve overall quality of life. Your physical therapist may apply ice and heat, use stimulation methods or apply ultrasound techniques that can increase blood flow.
- Knee Conditioning. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offers knee conditioning exercises that are designed to strengthen the muscles that support the knees, reducing stress on the knee joints and helping to relieve pain. The group notes, however, that such exercises should be done after consultation with your doctor to ensure they are appropriate for your particular circumstances.
- Weight Loss. The Arthritis Foundation cites recent studies showing that losing weight reduces pressure on the knees and eases pain and inflammation. A healthy diet combined with exercise can help you lose weight and strengthen your muscles, both of which can help to reduce knee pain.
- Pain Medication. Medication, including over-the-counter pain relievers and topical creams with numbing agents, may help control your knee pain. Your doctor might also recommend an injection of either steroids or cortisone.
- Knee Surgery. Certain older adults are candidates for surgery, such as arthroscopic surgery or knee replacement. A surgeon will look at several factors before recommending whether surgery is appropriate and, if so, which type it should be.
Knee problems should not be ignored. If left untreated, they most likely will become worse over time. Seniors should see their doctor for the proper diagnosis.