The goals of knee arthritis treatment are to reduce pain, increase function, prevent disease progression, and completely eliminate arthritic knee pain. There are many different options.
Arthritis occurs when the cartilage lining the knee joint “breaks down” causing bone to rub against bone. It causes pain, stiffness and inflammation.
It is important to remember that there is no cure for arthritis, the changes in bone and cartilage cannot be reversed. But the impact of that change can be minimized.
Here you will find information about the best knee arthritis treatment options. We’ll start with simple treatments you can do at home, then look at medications and finish with the most common options for surgery.
Top 15 Knee Arthritis Treatments
The goal of knee arthritis treatment is to enable you to manage your symptoms so that you can get on with your life. By reducing pain and swelling, and improving the strength and mobility of your knee, you can improve your daily life.
The best treatment for knee arthritis is:
1. Knee Arthritis Exercises
Exercise is one of the most effective treatments for knee arthritis
People were once told that exercise make arthritis worse. Nothing could be further from the truth. Studies have consistently shown that exercise is one of the best treatment options for knee arthritis.
Ideally you want a combination of aerobic exercise such as swimming and cycling and strength and range of motion exercises when treating arthritis:
Strength training: Stronger muscles mean more support for the knee and therefore less force is exerted by the bones, resulting in less pain.
Mobility exercises: When the knee begins to stiffen and the muscles tighten, it can change the way the knee moves and put extra stress on the cartilage and bones. Walking on a leg that isn’t completely straight, even by a few degrees, is very difficult so it’s important to keep your knees as flexible as possible.
If you are an avid runner and suffer from arthritis, it is best to avoid hard running surfaces such as pavement. Choose a treadmill, cross trainer or grass instead. Use the links above to find arthritis exercise programs that can help as part of your knee arthritis treatment.
2. Knee braces
Arthritic knee braces work by reducing the force that passes through the affected part of the knee
Another popular knee arthritis treatment is the use of knee braces. A knee brace can be worn to help stabilize the leg and reduce stress on the joint. This is really good if the knees feel weak and wobbly with arthritis. There are different types of arthritis braces available.
Most high-tech knee braces redistribute forces away from the arthritis, which can dramatically reduce pain. Others provide more general support.
In the arthritis knee braces section, you can learn how different arthritis knee braces work and read user reviews to help you choose the best one for you.
Arthritis braces should not be used as the sole treatment but should be used with other knee arthritis treatment options to get the best results.
Read more: Best Knee Wrap for Baker’s Cyst
3. Heat and ice
Many people find that applying ice or heat as part of their knee arthritis treatment really helps.
Heat: Heat can be very soothing to arthritic joints and is an excellent, natural treatment for knee arthritis. The sensation of heat helps prevent pain and also increases blood flow to the area. It brings all the chemicals and nutrients that the joints need as well as removes waste products that can irritate the joints and contribute to pain.
Ice: Ice can be a really useful knee arthritis treatment tool to help reduce pain and swelling.
An easy way to apply heat is to use a hot water bottle (making sure it has a fluffy cover or towel wrapped around it), or a microwavable wheat bag and use it for about 15-20 minutes at a time.
To learn how to use ice safely and effectively, visit the ice treatment section or the ice wrap section to learn about the best ways to apply ice, such as ice bags, instant ice packs, or cricos.
4. Natural remedies
Natural remedies such as supplements can be helpful in treating knee arthritis
Natural remedies for treating knee arthritis are becoming more and more popular. More and more research is being done on their effectiveness and many people swear by them.
There is a whole range of options including:
Supplements: such as glucosamine and chondroitin,
Homeopathy: Natural products such as ASU and Feverfew
Alternative medicine: such as magnets, copper bracelets, creams and gels.
5. Keep moving forward
Defeated knee arthritis
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Our joints need movement. The knee joint is surrounded by a bag-like structure (known as the joint capsule) that contains fluid that acts to lubricate the joint—think of it like the oil in your car that keeps everything running smoothly. Fluid is pumped into the joint with knee movement.
However, if the knee is in one position for too long, the fluid begins to “dry up” and the knee loses some of its lubrication. This is why the knee feels stiff and sore when you get up after sitting for a while, but relax after a few minutes, such as when watching television or when you get up in the morning.
So if possible, try and avoid sitting still for long periods of time. Every twenty minutes or so, do some simple exercises like bending and straightening your legs.
Visit the Arthritis Movement Exercises section for more information on this simple knee arthritis treatment tool.
Acupuncture can be used to treat arthritis
There have been many studies showing that acupuncture can be a really useful arthritic knee treatment option. Acupuncture helps block pain signals and increases blood flow to the area.
I have definitely had success using acupuncture with clients. However, I personally believe that acupuncture is most effective as a short-term knee arthritis treatment that helps relieve pain by enabling you to exercise to build strength and flexibility in your muscles as a long-term solution. It should be used as part of a knee arthritis treatment plan, not on its own.
7. Weight loss and diet
Research has shown us that reducing body weight by 5-10% can significantly reduce knee arthritis pain. It can also improve your ability to exercise.
Weight loss is recommended as part of knee arthritis treatment if you are overweight, so always consult your doctor before considering weight loss as a knee arthritis treatment option. With this body mass index chart you can know how much weight you need to lose.
There are certain foods that can help with knee arthritis, as are certain foods that should be avoided. By choosing good arthritis foods, you can help reduce inflammation and pain. See the Diet for Arthritis section for more.
8. Walking aids
Sometimes people with knee arthritis find it helpful to use sticks or crutches. Crutches can be used to reduce the amount of weight that goes off the knees when we walk. The stick doesn’t really take any weight off the joint but it helps us maintain balance.
If you only use a stick or crutch, always use it on the opposite side of the pain, i.e. if you have pain in your left knee, hold the stick in your right hand.
This is because when we walk normally we swing our opposite arm with our opposite leg (think of marching soldiers). This is the most efficient way our body moves, so we want to emulate it when using a walking aid.
9. Gel knee pads
Gel knee pads can help reduce knee arthritis pain
Gel knee pads can be a useful tool for treating knee arthritis. They make the knee more comfortable by providing a soft cushioned surface as well as reducing stress on the knee. They help spread out the force passing through the knee, rather than all of it passing through one point.
In the gel knee pads section you can read user reviews and find the best one for you.
10. Your activities are dynamic
One of the keys to knee arthritis pain is to pace your activities throughout the day—don’t try to do all strenuous activities at once. Alternate between physical activities and more gentleness.
Continue to use your knee, but rest when it hurts. Otherwise you may end up in a boom and bust cycle where you load up when you feel good but pay for it the next day.
A little and often works well. This is a very simple knee arthritis treatment option, but it can be very effective.
It can help correct abnormal foot conditions as part of knee arthritis treatment
Wearing shoes with a low heel and soft cushioning can really help with knee arthritis. High heels change the way the knee works by increasing pressure on the knee joint, so avoid! The cushioned sole acts as a shock absorber to help reduce the force transmitted through the knee.
Insoles can help if you have problems with the arches of your feet – having flat feet puts pressure on the inside of the knee. Foot conditions can often be improved by wearing specially designed insoles in your shoes.
12. Tips for stairs
People with arthritis often complain of pain or difficulty climbing stairs. This can get to the point where people limit how often they get up and down or in extreme cases lie down.
But there are some really simple things you can do to make getting up and down a lot easier, like changing which leg goes up and down first, using a stick or crutch to help, and other little tricks.
Check out this article on how to do stairs with knee pain for our top 10 tips. This is a really simple treatment for knee arthritis but it can make a huge difference in everyday life.
13. Medicines for gout
Proper medication is an important part of arthritis knee treatment
Medication can be a really useful part of knee arthritis treatment. These may be over-the-counter treatments or prescription medications:
Pain relief: If arthritis pain is bothering you, talk to your doctor about what pain-relief would be best for you. It may be that a simple over the counter drug like paracetamol is enough, but you may need something stronger.
Anti-inflammatory drugs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to treat knee arthritis. Some are available over the counter such as ibuprofen and stronger ones are available by prescription. NSAIDs work by reducing inflammation and pain.
I know many people don’t like taking pills but they can be really helpful. It is usually better to take medication for a short period of time so that you can do your arthritis exercise program rather than fighting the pain when your knees become weak and painful.
Proper medication is one of the most important treatment options for knee arthritis.
14. Knee injection
Two types of injections can be used to treat knee arthritis:
Injections for knee arthritis can be an excellent treatment to reduce pain and inflammation.
Corticosteroid injection: A combination of local anesthetic and steroid that is injected into the joint to help reduce pain and swelling.
Joint lubricant injection: Like Synvisc, this involves an injection to help lubricate the natural gel-like substance found in normal joints in the knee.
These knee arthritis treatment injections are often administered by your own doctor. Although they won’t cure your arthritis, they can provide pain relief for up to 6 months.
15. Knee Arthritis Surgery
Often, conservative knee arthritis treatment is sufficient to manage arthritis symptoms and progression. However, sometimes the pain becomes very debilitating and surgery is advised.
The most common surgery performed for arthritis is joint replacement. If the arthritis is limited to one side of the joint, a partial knee replacement may be recommended. If the arthritis is more extensive, a total knee replacement may be necessary.
You can learn all about what happens during knee replacement surgery, the recovery and rehabilitation process, and how to get the best results in the knee replacement surgery section.