This study aimed to clarify changes in the prevalence of rheumatic diseases in Shantou, China, in the past 3 decades and validate whether stair-climbing is a risk factor for knee pain and knee osteoarthritis (KOA). The World Health Organization-International League Against Rheumatism Community Oriented Program for Control of Rheumatic Diseases (COPCORD) protocol was implemented. In all, 2337 adults living in buildings without elevators and 1719 adults living in buildings with elevators were surveyed. The prevalence of rheumatic pain at any site and in the knee was 15.7% and 10.2%, respectively; both types of pain had a significantly higher incidence in residents of buildings without elevators than was reported by people who lived in buildings with elevators (14.9% vs. 10.6% and 11.32% vs. 8.82%, respectively) (both P < 0.0001). The prevalence of rheumatic pain in the neck, lumbar spine, shoulder, elbow, and foot was 5.6%, 4.5%, 3.1%, 1.4%, and 1.8%, respectively; these findings were similar to the data from the 1987 rural survey, but were somewhat lower than data reported in the urban and suburban surveys of the 1990s, with the exception of neck and lumbar pain. The prevalence of KOA, gout, and fibromyalgia was 7.10%, 1.08%, and 0.07%, respectively, and their prevalence increased significantly compared with those in previous studies from the 20th century. There were no significant differences in the prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (0.35%) or ankylosing spondylitis (AS) (0.31%) compared to that reported in prior surveys. The prevalence of KOA was higher in for residents of buildings without elevators than that in those who had access to elevators (16-64 years, 5.89% vs. 3.95%, P = 0.004; 16->85 years, 7.64% vs. 6.26%, P = 0.162). The prevalence of RA and AS remained stable, whereas that of KOA, gout, and fibromyalgia has increased significantly in Shantou, China, during the past 3 decades. Stair-climbing might be an important risk factor for knee pain and KOA.