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BMJ. 1995 May 20; 310(6990): 1291–1293.
PMCID: PMC2549676

Prevalence of knee problems in the population aged 55 years and over: identifying the need for knee arthroplasty.


OBJECTIVE--To determine the prevalence of knee problems in people aged 55 years and over and identify those who should be considered for knee arthroplasty. DESIGN--Postal survey; questionnaires were sent to a multistage stratified probability sample of residents of North Yorkshire Health Authority aged 55 and over. SETTING--A health district with a population of 210,000 aged 55 and over. RESULTS--An initial four page postal questionnaire produced an 86% response rate among 18,827 eligible patients. A subsequent detailed questionnaire sent to 1277 patients with knee problems (with a response rate of 78%) then determined the prevalence of severe pain and severe disability. Pain and disability consistent with the need to consider arthroplasty was found in 20.4/1000 (95% confidence interval 18.0 to 23.1); of these, 4.1 (2.7 to 5.8)/1000 had extreme disability. Age and sex specific rates in men who might benefit from arthroplasty were, in those aged 55-64, 12.9 (8.4 to 19.0)/1000; aged 65-74, 12.1 (7.4 to 18.4)/1000; aged 75 and over, 20.3 (12.9 to 30.5)/1000. In women aged 55-64 the rates were 12.9 (8.6 to 18.7)/1000; aged 65-74, 19.6 (13.9 to 26.7)/1000; aged 75 years and over, 42.6 (34.3 to 52.4)/1000. CONCLUSIONS--Total knee replacement has until recently been considered unreliable and often seen as a last resort for many with severe knee problems. Advances in prosthesis design and surgical and anaesthetic techniques have transformed this procedure into a reliable option with a potential for reducing disability and dependency in a large number of people in the community. Understandably, the prevalence pool of those who may benefit is large; health authorities and, increasingly, general practitioners should consider purchasing more total knee replacement surgery to offer real choice to those in need.

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