Several home remedies for osteoarthritis not only help with knee pain, but also help delay cartilage degeneration.
They’re so effective, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons strongly recommends self-management as a treatment for knee osteoarthritis. (1)
Below are the top 11 home treatments for knee OA that will ease your knee pain the most. There are instructions on how to do each one as well.
Tap on the bullet points below to skip to that treatment’s section:
- Home exercises
- Hot/Cold therapy
- Wearing knee supports
- Dietary supplements
- Weight loss
- Proper sleep
- Stress management
Let’s get started!
11 Home treatments for knee osteoarthritis pain
1) Easy at-home exercises
This is in part because it strengthens your leg muscles. The stronger they become, the better they can protect your knee joint. This can delay the progression of knee osteoarthritis and reduce pain at the same time. (1, 2)
The best part is that you can reap all these benefits at home. Here are some of the easiest home exercises to do for knee OA. Do them three times per week to maximize your results (3):
Instructions: 3-4 sets of 10-20 reps
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed out.
- Slowly lower your butt down as if you were trying to sit on a chair.
- Stop before the point of pain or when your thighs are parallel to the floor, whichever comes first.
- Stand back up, squeezing your glutes and quadriceps muscles to do so.
- The whole exercise should be pain-free.
Pro-tip: Use that sensation of “pain about to start” as your limit. Go slightly above that point for the next repetition.
Instructions: 3-4 sets of 10-20 reps
- Lay on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
- Raise your butt off the floor until your knees, hips, and shoulders form a straight line.
- Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
Instructions: 3-4 sets of 10-20 reps
- Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointing out.
- Bend forward at the hips without arching your spine.
- You can softly bend your knees to relieve pressure off of your lower back, but the majority of the movement should still be at your hips.
- Stand back up again, squeezing your hamstrings and glutes to do so.
Pro tip: Use the movement of your torso to differentiate a squat from a deadlift. On a squat, it’s almost straight. But on a deadlift, it folds over your thighs.
Instructions: 3 sets of 5-10 reps
- Sit up straight on the edge of a chair.
- Place the leg you’re about to stretch straight in front of you. Keep the other knee bent.
- Bend at the hips without arching your back until you feel a slight stretch on your hamstrings.
- Keep that position for 30-60 seconds.
- Go back to the starting position.
Instructions: 3 sets of 5-10 reps. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds.
- Lay on your side or on your belly.
- Bend the knee of the leg you want to stretch so your foot is as close to your glutes as possible.
- Reach behind you and grab your foot.
- Pull on that foot until you feel a stretch on your quadriceps muscle (the front of your thighs).
- Maintain that position for 30-60 seconds.
- Go back to the starting position and repeat.
2) Thermotherapy to reduce pain and joint stiffness
Thermotherapy refers to the use of temperature to ease symptoms. There are 3 types – heat, cold, and contrast:
- Heat therapy can reduce pain and stiffness by increasing blood flow. This can also improve mobility for some people. Do this with a heating pad or warm compress, for 20 minutes at a time. (4)
- Cold therapy also helps with inflammatory arthritis in general, whether it’s osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Do this with cold compresses or a bag of frozen vegetables, for up to 20 minutes. (4)
- Contrast therapy is a combination of both. 4 minutes of heat, followed by 2 minutes of cold, repeated 3 times. (4)
Which one is better for knee OA: Hot, cold, or contrast?
In reality, the improvements in pain and function are very similar for the three of them. So, the best one is the one you like most. (4)
Some people feel better with heat, others with cold, others with contrast. Try each one and stick to the modality that makes you feel better.
3) Wear a knee brace
- Improve your knee OA symptoms
- Prevent further joint damage
- Promote healing
- Keep your knee stable
- Make you feel safe while doing your daily activities
There are thousands of options out there. This is a blessing because you will always have multiple choices, but it can also be a curse because choosing the right one takes a lot of time and research.
Generally though, for knee osteoarthritis, the choices boil down to three designs: knee sleeves, hinged braces, and unloaders.
This should help: How to find the best type of knee brace for your needs
4) Rest your knee joint
Rest can be a double-edged sword for knee osteoarthritis.
Yes, it can soothe your painful joints. More so after doing physical activity. In that case, lying down with your knees elevated and an ice pack wrapped around your joint can be a godsend.
But, it’s also true that prolonged rest can worsen symptoms for osteoarthritis patients. The joint fluid stagnates, causing stiffness and pain.
So, make sure to use rest with caution.
If it eases your symptoms, by all means, rest. But, if it makes them worse, perhaps it’s time to make some lifestyle changes and add more physical activity to your routine.
5) Take dietary supplements
Glucosamine and chondroitin
Glucosamine is one of the building blocks of cartilage. Whereas chondroitin is naturally present in our tendons and ligaments.
They’re often taken in combination. Make sure to read the fine print, though, as most of these supplements are made with shellfish and you might be allergic.
Turmeric and ginger
Both are spices with anti-inflammatory properties. You can add them to your food or take them as pills.
Although, some people have upset stomachs after taking turmeric and/or ginger pills. Make sure to take them after your meals to avoid this.
Which supplement should you take?
Please talk to your doctor before taking any supplement, especially if you have a medical condition or are taking medication.
Now, if you don’t have a history of illness, these supplements are safe as long as you follow the instructions of the manufacturer.
This can help: Top supplements to ease knee pain
6) Lose weight (or keep a healthy one)
There’s a link between having a BMI >25 and knee osteoarthritis symptoms. So much so, that overweight/obese people with knee OA can feel better after losing as little as 5-10% of body weight. (5)
To put that into perspective, you can achieve significant pain relief if you drop your weight from 200 lbs to 190. That’s why weight loss is another core part of knee osteoarthritis treatment for overweight/obese patients. (1)
But, the main challenge is keeping the weight off because we can only control so much.
Per research, 50% of our ability to change weight is due to the genes we’re born with. The other half includes things we have control over, like diet, exercise, and lifestyle.
Nevertheless, consider weight loss as a long-term strategy rather than a quick fix. Gradually losing weight with a combination of nutrition and fitness will help you keep the weight off over time. (2)
Related: 11 natural foods to ease knee pain
7) Have a bedtime routine
This is incredibly important for treating knee osteoarthritis.
See, 50-80% of people with knee OA have sleep problems. This is a huge problem because good sleep has been shown to ease pain. It can even have protective effects on the knee cartilage. (6)
On the other hand, a bad night’s sleep can make you more sensitive to pain. Studies show that this can happen with as little as a 4-hour sleep restriction for 2 consecutive nights.
What does a bedtime routine have to do with this?
A bedtime routine can promote quality sleep. Over time, this sets up a rhythm that prepares your brain for rest, making it easier for you to fall asleep.
Now, the activities will vary. According to the Sleep Foundation, a good bedtime routine should be relaxing and start at the same time every day. Avoid using electronic devices.
A good example of a bedtime routine for knee osteoarthritis can look like this:
- Taking a warm bath
- 10-20 minutes of thermotherapy
- Lower leg stretches in bed
- Aromatherapy or a soothing self-massage
8) Work on your stress management
We know this is easier said than done, but it’s true that stress can increase knee OA pain. This is a challenge because people with knee osteoarthritis can be prone to anxiety and depression. (7)
Having knee OA and anxiety/depression also increases (7):
- The number of doctor appointments and medication
- The likelihood of having surgical complications
- The level of pain after surgery
So, if you’re feeling anxious/depressed about your osteoarthritis, please seek professional help. It can save you time, money, and heartache in the future.
Tips for managing osteoarthritis-related anxiety
First, the best thing to do is to go to a psychologist with a specialty in chronic pain. He/she will teach you coping mechanisms to help you reduce joint pain.
They can also help you learn which thought patterns can worsen your symptoms. That way, you’ll be able to identify them in time to prevent a flare-up.
Also, find time to do activities you love. Maybe it’s reading, playing a musical instrument, or hanging out with friends. It will have a big impact on your symptoms.
9) Use a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device
A TENS unit is a small, portable device that sends a low-voltage electric current. This current can inhibit some pain signals, which can provide short-term relief. (8)
It has adhesive patches – electrodes – that are placed around the painful area. You can regulate the level of intensity of the current and customize it to your liking.
This makes for a great device to self-manage knee pain at home. But, make sure to talk to your doctor/physiotherapist before using it so they can teach you how to use it properly.
People with pacemakers shouldn’t use TENS, though. It can interfere with the electrical function of the heart. (1)
10) Perform a self-massage around your joint
Your doctor may recommend massage therapy to soothe the muscles around your knee. This can relieve pain and help you relax before bed.
The good news is that you can do it on your own as well:
- The massage should be pain-free at all times to avoid bruising or an increase in pain
- Sit comfortably on the edge of a chair or your bed, with the affected knee relaxed in front of you
- Take some cream and distribute it in the palms of your hands
- Stroke your quadriceps muscle with the heel of your hand, 5-10 times
- Then, stroke the outer and inner sides of your thigh, gently. Those areas can be sensitive
- Finally, place four fingertips around the kneecap – make sure they’re not on top of it
- Make circles with your fingertips to relax the tissues around the kneecap
Pro tip: Use capsaicin cream or menthol cream for more pain relief.
11) Take pain relief medications to ease joint pain
Sometimes, osteoarthritis symptoms may include severe pain. In these moments, medications are your best bet for reducing symptoms quickly.
That way, you can get back to your rehabilitation program and continue your recovery.
Pro tip: If you have a pain flare-up, try to identify what caused it. Too much movement? Too little? Stress? Bad sleep? This is a learning opportunity you can use to prevent it from happening again.
How can I relieve arthritis pain at home?
There are several ways to do this. The most common home treatments include:
- Home exercises
- Wearing a knee brace
- Heat and cold therapy
- Lose weight
- Improve your sleep, diet, and stress management
- Take certain dietary supplements
What is the best home remedy for knee arthritis?
There isn’t one best home remedy for knee arthritis. Many natural remedies can help manage this condition. The most effective include exercise, self-management strategies, and losing weight.
How can I cure knee osteoarthritis naturally?
Knee osteoarthritis can’t be cured. This degenerative process is irreversible. But, there are several natural treatments for knee osteoarthritis symptoms.
They can improve your quality of life. And in the best-case scenario, they can help you delay your need for surgery.
Is walking bad for osteoarthritis of the knee?
No, on the contrary. Walking +6000 steps daily can have protective effects on your knee joint. But, talk to your healthcare provider if walking increases pain. (9)
Conclusion: Home treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee
Knee wear and tear is irreversible, yes. But, several treatments can help relieve arthritis symptoms so you can live life as freely as possible.
First, make sure to do some sort of exercise, as it’s one of the most effective treatments for arthritis pain. Hot/cold compresses and TENS can be effective in the short term.
Long-term strategies of home treatments include losing weight, improving sleep, and managing stress. They may not show results right away, but they will improve your symptoms down the road.
In doubt, ask your physical therapist for the best home treatments for you.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Management of Osteoarthritis of the Knee (Non-Arthroplasty) Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline (3rd Edition). https://www.aaos.org/oak3cpg Published August 31, 2021.
- The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Guideline for the management of knee and hip osteoarthritis. 2nd edn. East Melbourne, Vic: RACGP, 2018. Retrieved on December 2021 from: https://www.racgp.org.au/download/Documents/Guidelines/Musculoskeletal/guideline-for-the-management-of-knee-and-hip-oa-2nd-edition.pdf
- Anwer, Shahnawaz et al. “Effect of Home Exercise Program in Patients With Knee Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Journal of geriatric physical therapy (2001) vol. 39,1 (2016): 38-48. DOI: 10.1519/JPT.0000000000000045
- Denegar, Craig R et al. “Preferences for heat, cold, or contrast in patients with knee osteoarthritis affect treatment response.” Clinical interventions in aging vol.5 199-206. 9Aug. 2010, DOI: 10.2147/cia.s11431
- Messier, Stephen P et al. “Intentional Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Patients With Knee Osteoarthritis: Is More Better?.” Arthritis care & research vol. 70,11 (2018): 1569-1575. DOI: 10.1002/acr.23608
- Dai, Zhaoli etal. “Sleep Quality Is Related to Worsening Knee Pain in Those with Widespread Pain: The Multicenter Osteoarthritis Study.” The Journal of rheumatology vol. 47,7 (2020): 1019-1025. DOI: 10.3899/jrheum.181365
- Sharma, Anirudh etal. “Anxiety and depression in patients with osteoarthritis: impact and management challenges.” Open access rheumatology: research and reviews vol.8 103-113. 31 Oct. 2016, DOI: 10.2147/OARRR.S93516
- Vance, Carol et al. “Using TENS for pain control: the state of the evidence.” Pain management vol. 4,3 (2014): 197-209. DOI: 10.2217/pmt.14.13
- White, Daniel K et al. “Daily walking and the risk of incident functional limitation in knee osteoarthritis: an observational study.” Arthritis care & research vol. 66,9 (2014): 1328-36. DOI: 10.1002/acr.22362