What can we do about knee injury or pain in our knee joints as we age? Should we avoid being physically active? What are our options when it comes to pain relief? Learn more this ‘retiree’s disease’.
Are creaky knees a retiree’s disease? It’s true that knee problems are the most common age-related musculoskeletal problem in Singapore. If you’re over 40, you may already be feeling a twinge or two. Understand more on how the knee joint—the largest joint in your body—works, and why it hurts when it does.
Related: Knee Arthritis: Symptoms, Types and Treatment
The knee connects the upper leg bone and the lower leg bones. Making up this joint are ligaments (for stability), tendons and muscles (for movement), with two discs of cartilage, or menisci, (for shock absorption) and many bursae, or fluid-filled sacs (which help the knee move smoothly).
Like any mechanism, the harder you work it, the more worn out it gets. Our knees don’t just face everyday wear and tear, they also get stressed when we are overweight or engage in high-impact sports. On top of degeneration, as we grow older, our knees become susceptible to inflammatory and crystal diseases.
Do you experience any of these?
These are typical complaints that tend to surface in our 50s and can limit our lifestyles, especially when we enjoy being physically active. Mdm Julie, a proud owner of two lively dogs, laments that she has not been able to take them on walks like before. Fortunately, medical intervention has given her hope of being able to do so again. (You can read her story below.)
Barring injury as a cause, the following are some common reasons behind chronic knee pain:
The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is due to the progressive wearing down of cartilage over time. This limits the range of motion and triggers pain, stiffness, weakness and swelling of the knee.
Your age, weight and genes could play a part in developing osteoarthritis, as could previous injuries and infections. The World Health Organisation estimates that 40% of people aged over 70 will develop osteoarthritis.
This is an autoimmune disease that causes the tissue around the joint to become inflamed and thickened. In the long term, this could damage and reduce the knee cartilage.
That sac of fluid over your kneecap can get irritated if you have to bend or kneel repeatedly. That’s why this condition, with pain and swelling, is also known as “housemaid’s knee”!
Related: 11 Ways To Relieve Leg Pains
Crystal deposits within the joint cause pain, swelling and inflammation (with redness and heat). Again, age, genetics and obesity predispose you to gout. Additionally, excessive alcohol intake and kidney disease are risk factors.
When the kneecap slides out of position, pain and swelling result. This could be due to weak thigh muscles, or activities which stress the knee, especially by twisting. Being overweight, running or squatting frequently can acerbate the condition.
Related: Patellar Tendinopathy
In order to reduce or manage knee pain, some recommendations are to:
If you experience severe pain or swelling, are unable to walk or bend the knee, or notice a deformity, it is best to see a doctor instead of relying on home remedies. Do this too, for any pain that doesn’t go away after a few days or after rest.
Your doctor will examine your knee for flexibility, functionality and general mobility. X-rays or an MRI/CT scan can identify injuries or deformities. Occasionally blood tests may be ordered, and sometimes, a small amount of joint fluid could be drawn for testing.
Before the First Antenatal Visit (Choosing Your Doctor)
Why knee problems trouble us so much is because they can really hurt. We suggest several ways to contain the pain and gain some ease from knee disease! Try these:
As always, your doctor can advise you best.
Related: Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear (ACL Tear)
When the knee has degenerated badly (usually not until your late 60s), or there is knee injury, surgery may be required. Operations are usually the last resort after other pain management techniques fail to help. Knee surgery is considered very safe and effective, but it is not fool-proof. While 90% are able to resume normal activities, others may still feel some pain or require revision surgery.
Related: Diabetes Complications: The Road to Recovery After Amputation
Mdm Julie, a 58-year-old businesswoman, attributes her knee problems to the intensive badminton sessions she played throughout her 40s. “My knees began to hurt, but I thought I was still young. Then, one by one, my friends had to give up because of similar injuries, and the group disbanded.”
Two years ago, the knee pain became severe enough for her to seek specialist help. An MRI revealed a bone spur, as well as worn-down cartilage.
Mdm Julie opted for key-hole surgery, done through two tiny incisions on either side of her right knee. However, after the effects of the anaesthesia wore off, Mdm Julie still felt pain. Cold compresses helped to suppress this, along with painkillers. Unfortunately, a lubricant injection failed to help further. Doctors told her she is among the 1% of patients who recover poorly—99% find immediate relief after surgery.
Five months on, Mdm Julie now sees more improvement and has no regrets about having had the procedure done. She is conscientious about exercise, using a stationary bike and walking twice a day despite the initial pain. “I force myself so that I can recover faster,” she smiles.
At the same time, she is preparing herself mentally in case she needs a knee replacement when she is older.
An ageing society may see more joint problems, but modern medication and surgery techniques can offer valuable, long-lasting relief. Don’t let pain bring you to your knees!
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This article was last reviewed on
22 Nov 2023
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