BACKGROUND: Self-reported knee complaints may vary with age and gender. Reference data from the adult population would help to better interpret the outcome of interventions due to knee complaints. The objectives of the present study were to describe the variation of self-reported knee pain, function and quality of life with age and gender in the adult population and to establish population-based reference data for the Knee injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score (KOOS). METHODS: Population-based cohort retrieved from the national population register. The knee-specific Knee injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score (KOOS) was mailed to 840 subjects aged 18-84 yrs. RESULTS: 68% response rate. Women in the age group 55-74 reported more knee-related complaints in all the KOOS subscales than age-matched men. The differences were significant for the subscales Pain (p = 0.027), Symptoms (p = 0.003) and ADL function (p = 0.046). In men, worse ADL and Sport and Recreation function was seen in the oldest age group 75-84 years compared to the younger age groups (p < 0.030). In women, worse Pain (p < 0.007), ADL (p < 0.030), Sport and Recreation (p < 0.001) and QOL (p < 0.002) were seen already in the age group 55-74 compared to the younger age groups. CONCLUSION: We found pain and other symptoms, physical function, and knee-related quality of life to vary with age and gender implying the use of age- and gender matched reference values for improved understanding of the outcome after interventions due to knee injury and knee OA.