Open Access Open Badges Research article

“…Keep mobile, I think that’s half the battle.” A qualitative study of prevention of knee pain in symptomless older adults

Fizzah Ali, Clare Jinks and Bie Nio Ong*

Author Affiliations

Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre, Primary Care Sciences, Keele University, Keele, ST5 5BG, UK

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:753  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-753

Published: 7 September 2012



The emphasis on prevention in English health policy continues to centre predominantly on major diseases such as coronary heart disease and diabetes. A number of key documents detailing self-management techniques and prevention of osteoarthritis (OA) are currently available, including the NICE guidelines and the Arthritis Foundation’s National Public Health Agenda for Osteoarthritis. However, few investigations have explored preventative knowledge of knee OA amongst the population. In particular, asymptomatic members of the population may use further information in considering how to prevent knee pain. This study considers perceptions around the prevention of knee pain amongst an asymptomatic population; this target population may provide alternative insights by which to stimulate preventative behaviours.


A sample of thirteen patients with no current knee pain was selected from responders to a population survey. Each interview was tape recorded and fully transcribed. Qualitative computer software package NVivo8 was used to manage the data. Thematic analysis was conducted using the constant comparative method.


The definition and causes of knee pain were interpreted in a multitude of ways. The importance of prevention was recognised by a sub-set, while a small proportion of participants negated the role of prevention. A range of social factors, including early adoption of actions, influenced the implementation and continuation of preventative behaviours. Individual responsibility for prevention was a key theme, although the role of society was also considered. Exercise was cited as a principal preventative strategy, although some participants viewed exercise as a destructive activity. A number of participants deemed pharmacotherapy to be harmful and at odds with normal physiology, instead preferring to adopt preventative behaviour over medication usage.


This asymptomatic population exhibit considerable breadth and variation in knowledge of preventative strategies for knee pain. Similarities in perceptions of prevention exist when comparing to the symptomatic population. These range from emphasis on individual responsibility, through to observations on the role of exercise and pharmacotherapy in knee pain. In general individuals are agreeable to act upon recommended treatments in line with NICE guidance. This receptiveness demands a greater consideration of preventative strategies in consultations, as well as wider availability and promotion of preventative strategies in order to improve the musculoskeletal health of the general population.