Many seniors suffer in silence from knee pain and even fewer choose not to undergo surgery.
With an ageing population, knee pain will continue to plague seniors. According to a local survey sponsored by Wellchem Pharmaceutical to mark World Arthritis Day 2012, knee pain is high in Singapore among those 65 and above. The survey found that 42 percent suffer from knee pain, with 41 percent suffering for five years or more.
The study also found that just five in 10 have consulted their doctor on their knee pain and 47 percent chose to suffer in silence or self-medicate. Most prescribed treatment was painkillers. Also, nearly half (45 percent) refused to undergo surgery – with only one in seven were open to the surgery option.
Ageless Online finds out more about knee pain from Dr Kevin Lee, medical director, Pinnacle Joint & Sports Centre at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre:
I understand that the incidence of knee pain is higher with increasing age and it is very common particularly with seniors. Is this true?
Yes this is true. In fact, knee pain is one of the commonest musculoskeletal complaints that older adults present to doctors with.
What are some causes of knee pain with seniors particularly in Singapore? Can you briefly explain each of the causes?
The common causes include osteoarthritis, tendinitis and trauma to the knee from falls. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative (wear and tear) form of arthritis that is commoner in older patients because cartilage starts to decrease in quantity and quality over time. Tendinitis refers to inflammation of tendons around the knee. Older adults are also more prone to falls and can injure the knee in several ways – fractures, meniscus tears and ligament tears.
I also understand that most conditions of knee pain are not serious. For those, what are the treatments? So how many days after should they see a doctor if things don’t resolve?
Any knee pain that does not resolve with rest and activity modification after a week or so should be assessed by a doctor or orthopaedic specialist to rule out a more serious condition.
What are some treatments for the more serious knee pain?
These will depend on the underlying causes and can range from rest, physiotherapy, injections and surgery.
Can you comment on the 2012 survey and the discovery that many seniors tend to suffer in silence with knee pain and few go for surgery? Why do they refuse this option?
This is a largely cultural thing. Most older Asian patients have a fear of hospitals and doctors and they would rather suffer in silence or take all kinds of medications and traditional herbs than to see a doctor or go for surgery. This is seen less commonly in developed Western countries where there is less fear of surgeries and doctors.
So what are some ways seniors can better protect their knees?
- Do joint-friendly sports such as briskwalking, swimming and cycling to maintain muscle strength.
- Avoid activities that put high stress on the knees such as climbing stairs, squatting and doing lunges.
- Seek early help if knee pain does not resolve by a week.