Four Common Knee Conditions that  Affect Seniors (and How to Treat Them)

Updated on May 4, 2018

It’s not uncommon for seniors to struggle with knee pain — in fact, knee instability is one of the leading causes of falls among older adults.

They may be common, but that doesn’t mean seniors need to suffer through their knee issues in silence. There are a number of treatment options available to lessen the pain and improve their overall quality of life.

Listed below are four common knee issues that seniors often experience, along with tips on how to properly treat them.

1. Tendinopathy

Tendinopathy, also known as tendinitis, is a condition that occurs when a tendon becomes inflamed or irritated. Tendons attach the muscles to the bones and are located throughout the body.

Tendinopathy of the knee is quite common, in part because the knees are used so frequently for all kinds of daily living activities, including walking, sitting, and standing.

Tendinopathy is characterized by pain in and around the knee. Some people experience swelling, stiffness, and tenderness as well.

In some cases, tendinopathy is so severe that the tendon actually ruptures. In these cases, surgery is needed to repair the damaged tendon. However, tendinopathy can usually be treated with rest, ice, and corrective exercises to strengthen the muscles and tendons around the knee.

2. Chondromalacia Patella

Chondromalacia patella — sometimes referred to as runner’s knee — is a condition that involves inflammation underneath the patella (kneecap) and a softening and loss of cartilage.


Cartilage serves a shock absorber for the knees — without it, people — especially the elderly, as well as runners and other athletes — are prone to pain, inflammation, other a greater injury risk.

Most people who are suffering from chondromalacia patella experience pain on the inside and front of the knee.

In order to diagnose this condition, doctors typically need to perform MRIs, blood tests, and/or arthroscopic surgery to get a look at the inside of the knee.

The standard treatment for chondromalacia typically involves rest, ice, elevation, and compression, along with anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy to improve mobility and help seniors get back to their regular activities.

3. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is among the leading causes of disability for elderly individuals. It occurs when the joints are damaged and begin to degenerate. This damage and degeneration results in inflammation, which, in turn, causes pain, stiffness, cracking of the joints, and muscle spasms.

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, but osteoarthritis of the knee is one of the most common forms.

Many seniors struggle with osteoarthritis, but those who are obese or have experienced previous joint injuries are especially susceptible.

Ice and heat can often be used to help treat osteoarthritis of the knee, as can low-impact exercise (this strengthens the muscles, bones, and joints to prevent additional damage).

In severe cases, seniors with osteoarthritis of the knee may require mobility aids like canes or walkers, and they may also need help from home care aides.

4. Osteonecrosis

Unlike osteoarthritis, which affects the joints, osteonecrosis affects the bones. Seniors who suffer from osteonecrosis experience a loss of blood supply to the bone, which eventually leads to bone death.

Osteonecrosis of the knee most often occurs in the lateral femoral condyle (the bone of the outside of the knee), the medial femoral condyle (the bone on the inside of the knee), or the tibial plateau (the flat part of the tibia underneath the kneecap).

Common symptoms include sudden knee pain that increases with activity or at night. This pain is often accompanied by swelling, limited range of motion, and increased sensitivity to touch.

In the early stages, osteonecrosis is most often treated with medications, braces, and conditioning programs to strengthen the thigh muscles to better support the knee joint. Doctors may also recommend activity modifications to help minimize knee pain.


If more than half the bone has been affected, surgery is required to shift weight-bearing away from the affected bone and replace joint surfaces.

Final Thoughts

If you’re a senior suffering from knee pain, one of these four common conditions could be to blame. Keep this information in mind as you work with your doctor to examine symptoms and determine the best form of treatment.


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