Prevalence of significant knee pain among older Americans: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1999 Dec;47(12):1435-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1999.tb01563.x.


Objective: To assess the prevalence of persistent knee pain among older adults in the US.

Design: A nationally representative cross-sectional survey with an in-person interview and medical examination

Setting and participants: Between 1988 and 1994, 6596 adults aged 60 to 90+ years were examined as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III. Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic blacks were over-sampled to produce reliable estimates for these groups.

Main outcome measurements: Participants were asked to report whether they had experienced knee pain on most days for the 6 weeks preceding their medical exam.

Results: Overall, 18.1% of US men and 23.5% of US women aged 60 years and older reported knee pain. Sixty- to ninety-year-old men reported knee pain less frequently than their age-matched female counterparts. There was a trend for reports of knee pain to increase steadily as these adults aged from 60 to 85 years. The highest prevalence of knee pain was reported among 85- to 90-year-old men (23.7%) and women (30.0%). Among non-Hispanic white adults older than age 60, 18.4% of men and 22.0% of women reported knee pain. Reports of knee pain among non-Hispanic black men and Mexican American men were similar to those of their non-Hispanic white counterparts. In contrast, 26.4% of Mexican American women and 32.8% of non-Hispanic black women reported knee pain. We also found that difficulty in performing physical functioning activities was associated with a higher prevalence of knee pain.

Conclusions: Many US adults older than age 60 years report knee pain, and the prevalence is higher in older adults. Reports of knee pain are highest among non-Hispanic black women and the oldest Americans. Intervention strategies are needed to prevent and better manage knee pain among older US adults to stem the adverse health consequences and diminished quality of life associated with this common problem.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Arthralgia / epidemiology*
  • Arthralgia / etiology
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology