Harvard Women's Health Watch

Unstable knees may contribute to recurrent falls and injuries

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A study found that knee buckling was associated with a higher risk of recurrent falls and significant injuries.

Knee buckling, caused by weakened muscles, is common in people who have osteoarthritis in their knees. To determine whether knee buckling leads to falls, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, studied 1,842 participants enrolled in the Multicenter Osteoarthritis Study (MOST), 59% of whom were women. At a visit five years into the study, the researchers asked the participants if their knees had buckled in the past three months and whether they had fallen as a result. About 17% of participants said their knees had buckled, 20% of whom reported falling as their knees gave way.

Two years later, the researchers queried participants again. They calculated that people whose knees buckled at year five were 1.6 to 2.5 times more likely than those with stable knees to fall during the next two years. Moreover, those who said they fell when a knee buckled at the five-year visit had 4.5-times the risk of recurrent falls and double the risk of sustaining significant injuries in a fall over the next two years.

The researchers noted that physical therapy and joint replacement can improve knee stability and balance. If you have arthritis and your knees feel a little wobbly, you might want to explore physical therapy before you have a fall. The report was published online Feb. 8, 2016, by Arthritis Care & Research.