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OBJECTIVE: To assess the nature and extent of rheumatic complaints in a semirural area in a multiracial (Malay, Indian, Chinese) community in Malaysia using the Community Oriented Program for the Control of Rheumatic Diseases (COPCORD) protocol initiated by ILAR and the WHO. METHODS: All members of a community of 2700 persons over the age of 15 years were offered a questionnaire based interview in Phase 1 of the study. Those with rheumatic complaints (pain in the last 1 week) were invited for a physical examination by a rheumatologist in Phase 2. RESULTS: In total, 2594 (96%) persons agreed to a questionnaire based interview. Of those interviewed, 21.1% had a current rheumatic complaint. The pain rate was higher in women (23.8%) than in men (17.8%). Chinese men had the lowest age-standardized pain rate (9.9%), while Indian women had the highest rate (28.4%). In the study population, 14.4% complained of pain in the joints and/or musculoskeletal pain and 11.6% had low back pain. The knee was responsible for 64.8% of all complaints pertaining to the joints, and more than half those examined with knee pain had clinical evidence of osteoarthritis (OA). The complaint rate increased with age, up to 53.4% in the group age > 65 years. The major disability encountered was the inability to squat (3.1%). Fibromyalgia, soft tissue lesions, and localized OA of the knees were the main clinical diagnoses. Inflammatory arthritis was uncommon. Both Western and traditional sources of healthcare were used, often together. Self-medication was common (58.8%). CONCLUSION: Knee and back pain are the main rheumatic complaints in Malaysia, with complaint rates differing according to race and gender.