A quarter of Britons suffering knee joint pain – rising levels of obesity to blame, say surgeons. More than a quarter (28%) of UK workers are suffering from painful knees, according to recent figures. Surgeons at Nuffield Health Hospitals say that rising levels of obesity across all age groups is a significant contributing factor. A survey of 1,600 workers aged 16-65 year olds shows that long term knee pain is common among all age groups, with almost a quarter (24%) of people saying they have been living with pain for up to two years, while a third (37%) had suffered untreated pain for more than five years.
The figures show that acute knee pain is most prevalent in the over 55s. Over a third (36%) reported suffering from knee pain in the last 12 months, a fifth (19%) said they were in pain ‘most days’ and one in ten (10%) said they were in constant pain. More than one in ten (12%) people, across all age groups, said they had needed time off work in the past 12 months because of knee pain.
Mr Ronan Banim, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Nuffield Health Chester Hospital said:
“If levels of obesity continue to rise the number of people needing knee replacements is likely go through the roof. In clinics we are seeing knees that are literally being crushed by excess weight. This puts pressure on joints and can increase the long-term risk of osteoarthritis. Weight control, regular, careful, exercise and healthy eating are extremely important. Although knee pain may not life threatening, if left untreated it can seriously impact on quality of life. Patients should seek early treatment and, where necessary, consider losing just a small amount of weight as this could rule out the need for future surgery.”
The figures show that only a third (33%) of people had sought treatment from their GP, with two thirds (66%) failing to find a solution. Just 7% said the pain disappeared naturally over time.
Surgeons say that ‘under-diagnosis’ is common for joint injuries, with GPs slow to refer patients to knee specialists for further investigation. Of those who did find a successful treatment, nearly a third (30%) used physiotherapy, while one in seven (15%) needed surgery. Almost a fifth (19%) reported less pain after following an exercise programme.
Surgeons also cite the trend in older people taking up rigorous exercise as a contributing factor in the rise in knee joint pain among the older population.
Mr Banim added:
“We are seeing a number of older people becoming more active, with activities like marathons and triathlons becoming popular. While this is excellent for maintaining a healthy lifestyle generally, the degenerative problem and pressure on ageing joints can lead to knee problems. It is important that ageing joints are not over used and preparation and rest before and after exercise is vital.”
Knee problems can be caused by sports injuries or through excess pressure on the joint, often through over using the joint or other repetitive movement. Mostly, knee problems show themselves in the form of pain, swelling or the joint making crunching and clunking noises known as ‘crepitus’. For those who are older, osteoarthritis which is damage to the cartilage is often the likely cause of knee pain. Simple treatments can be effective, such as pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs, and the use of walking aids, or physiotherapy and exercise. If pain persists further treatment should be sought from a specialist.
Dr Sarah Dauncey, Medical Director, at Nuffield Health, said:
“To minimise the potential risks of getting knee pain, people who are becoming more active should look at pre and post activity warm-ups and downs, wearing good trainers and supporting the joint when exercising.”