A new study suggests that knee pain experienced by older people is usually not an isolated problem, but is more often part of a constellation of chronic aches.
UK researchers found in a survey of more than 6,000 adults age 50 years of older, that 57 percent of those who reported knee pain also had pain in at least two other body sites, and these men and women tended to have more physical limitations than their peers.
It was found that only a minority of those with knee pain had that problem alone.
Dr. Peter Croft, the study's lead author, says they can safely assume that most survey respondents with knee pain had knee osteoarthritis, though some with widespread pain may have had other conditions.
Osteoarthritis is the common, wear-and-tear form of arthritis in which the cartilage cushioning the joints breaks down over time, leading to inflammation, stiffness and pain.
According to Croft, osteoarthritis in the knee could create pain elsewhere by affecting a person's posture, gait or activity levels, and obesity can also contribute to pain in numerous body sites.
Croft says in general, factors such as a person's general health and perceptions of pain help determine whether pain, wherever it is, becomes chronic, and whether discomfort develops in other parts of the body.
Older people may commonly have a "pain syndrome" affecting their joints, as opposed to an isolated form of arthritis, says Croft.
Croft and colleagues at Keele University included in their survey, patients at three general practices, who indicated any body sites in which they had pain for at least one day in the past month.
The participants also answered questions about their general health, weight and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
It was found overall, that 41 percent said they'd had knee pain in the past month, while 23 percent reported pain in other sites.
The men and women with knee pain, also had pain elsewhere, usually affecting two or more sites, such as the lower back, neck or hip.
Those with multiple aches and pains also reported more physical limitations.
It's possible, Croft said, that treating knee pain will help ease pain in other body areas.
But, he added, it may also be important to focus on general pain management for older people with more widespread symptoms.
The findings are published in the August issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.