Common Causes of Knee Problems in the Elderly

Knee problems may occur at any age, but seniors are a particularly vulnerable age group due to the associated physiological changes of ageing.  Seniors tend to develop some problems with mobility as time goes by. When we have elderly family members living with us at home, it can be easy to dismiss these mobility problems, specifically the knee problems that seniors face as a common sign of ageing, but it can also be a sign of a medical condition. In this article we would like to offer some information about the common causes of knee problems affecting the elderly.


Tendinitis, as the name suggests, is the irritation or the inflammation of a tendon. Tendons are the fibrous rope-like structures which attach our muscles to the bones and are found all over our body, especially near the joints such as the knee. Tendinitis makes mobility a very painful business to those affected. When it affects the knee, it can impair the ability to do activities of daily living such as walking, standing, and sitting.

Severe cases of tendinitis may need surgical care, like in the case of the tendons rupturing. However, for non-severe cases, it can be treated at home with the following:

  • Rest
  • Pain medications
  • Physical Therapy

Chondromalacia Pattelae or Pattelofemoral Pain Syndrome

Chondromalacia Pattelae is a condition in which there is the presence of inflammation under the knee-cap and accompanied by softening of the cartilage. The cartilage under the kneecap is the body’s shock-absorber. In people who overworked their knees, such as athletes and the elderly, this results in the wear and tear condition known as Chondromalacia Patellae. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Pain on the inner side of the knee
  • Pain on the front of the knee
  • History of engaging in activities which might strain or stress the knee

Chondromalacia Pattelae is diagnosed by MRI, blood tests and arthroscopy. Once confirmed, treatment involves the following:

  • Physiotherapy
  • Medications to make the inflammation subside
  • RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation).


As the name suggests, Bursitis is the inflammation (itis) of the bursae. The bursae of the knee are the fluid filled sacs found around or near our joints that enables the smooth movement of our joints. When inflamed, any movement will trigger pain on the affected parts. It is usually found on heavily used joints of the body such as the elbows, the shoulder and the knee. The following are signs and symptoms of the condition:

  • Stiffness of the joint
  • Local joint pain
  • Stinging pain during and right after moving the affected joint.

Bursitis can be treated at home if it is not infected. Typically, seniors who have bursitis can be treated in a matter of weeks with a combination of the following:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Elevation
  • Medications to reduce inflammation
  • Medications to reduce pain
  • Physiotherapy

For complicated bursitis, surgical intervention might be needed. For both simple and complicated bursitis, seniors who are inflicted may benefit from the help of trained caregivers who would know what to do to help the elderly before and after hospitalization.

Meniscus Tear

Meniscus tear is a condition in which the meniscus is lacerated or torn. The meniscus is a cartilage found in the knee-joint. Each individual’s knee joint has two menisci, the inner or medial meniscus and the outer or lateral meniscus. The meniscus can get torn through traumatic injury or as a part of the wear and tear of ageing. As a result, seniors may find themselves with a torn meniscus with the following signs and symptoms:

  • Swelling of the knee
  • Pain in the knee
  • Limited ability of the knee to move
  • A popping sound or clicking sound when moving the knee

Torn meniscus is diagnosed via MRI and X-Ray of the affected knee. Treatment depends on the degree of the severity of the tear and may necessitate surgery. For all individuals with torn meniscus, especially the elderly, mobility will be severely limited and as such, they will need more assistance with the day to day activities. If family members are working and are not available to assist on a day to day basis, hiring private homecare services might be needed to ensure the best care possible.


Osteoarthritis is a condition caused by obesity, injury or aging joints. Wear and tear of the joints causes the joints to degenerate or get damaged, resulting in Osteoarthritis. The elderly is especially vulnerable, as the other two causes (obesity and injury) can be prevented. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Stiffness of the joints (especially the knee)
  • Pain
  • Immobility of the joint (largely because of the pain)
  • A crackling noise when the affected joint is moved
  • Muscle spasms
  • Joint effusion of the knee in severe cases

Osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of chronic disability among the elderly worldwide. Due to its nature, once someone is afflicted with Osteoarthritis, the individual will need lifelong treatment, especially with pain medications when symptoms are at their peak. Severe cases of Osteoarthritis would mean the person not being able to move the affected joint and might be homebound, which is especially true for seniors with the condition. Performing activities of daily living would need to be with the assistance of caregivers. Homecare may be a good solution, unless the individual has other medical conditions which might necessitate hospitalization.

The most important thing for seniors and family caregivers to keep in mind is that knee problems should not be ignored.  Most knee problems can easily be treated with rest and anti-inflammatory medication but they can make daily activities much more painful and difficult if they are left untreated.  Most knee problems will not go away on their own and will become worse over time if they are left untreated.  Seniors should make sure that they visit their doctor for an accurate diagnosis and should not try to treat their condition on their own. Family caregivers can assist their loved ones by making sure that they visit their doctor for a diagnosis and take any prescribed medications as directed. 

Additional related articles in Carefect’s home care blog: