Non-Surgical Treatment For Knee Osteoarthritis | 9 Short And Long-Term Relief Options

Written By on May 10, 2022 — Medically Reviewed By Kris Ceniza (PT)

The best non-surgical treatment for knee osteoarthritis manages joint pain and can delay the degenerative progress. Yet, you shouldn’t do just one treatment.

See, this complex condition requires a well-rounded approach. Combining a few treatments ensures you have both short and long-term pain relief, while delaying your need for surgery as much as possible.

So, we made a list of non-invasive treatments according to how fast they relieve knee joint pain. Choose the best ones for you and create the ideal combination for your knee osteoarthritis symptoms.

Here’s what we’ll cover – tap on any of the following bullets to easily navigate throughout the article.

Treatments for quick but short-term knee OA pain relief

The following treatment options can ease knee pain quickly – usually right after doing them.

This makes them ideal for flare-ups. Or for helping you navigate your life with knee osteoarthritis.

Yet, their effectiveness will wear off if you don’t pair them with long-term strategies. Also, some of them shouldn’t be done for long, as they can cause other health issues.

These treatments include:

1) Doing physical therapy

This is one of the best non-surgical treatment options you can do.

During your visit, your physical therapist will help you relieve knee pain, stiffness, and swelling with different strategies:



  • Thermotherapy.
  • Electrotherapy.
  • Massage.
  • Manual therapy.
  • Therapeutic exercise.

Your therapist will adapt the treatment according to your symptoms, so you leave the clinic feeling less pain and more mobility.

2) Doing home treatments

Most knee osteoarthritis patients have a few favorite home remedies that reduce pain effectively. The most common include (1, 2):

  • Doing hot/cold therapy at home.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Following a specific strength and stretching routine.

This can take a little bit of trial and error, but testing which home treatments suit you best is key for managing your condition.

This will help: 11 home treatments for knee osteoarthritis pain.

3) Wearing knee braces

These garments give external support to your knee joint. In turn, this can reduce pain and swelling, while making it easier for you to do your daily activities.

There are several types of knee braces available for managing osteoarthritis of the knee:

  • Knee sleeves – for pain and swelling management.
  • Hinged braces – best if you need extra stability.
  • Unloader braces – for people with lateral or medial compartment knee osteoarthritis.

If you’re not sure which one to use, talk with your doctor or therapist about it. They’ll be able to give you recommendations according to your case.

Learn more: Best braces for knee osteoarthritis.

4) Steroid injections in the knee joint

Steroids are effective medications for treating knee joint pain and inflammation. If your pain is too intense or limiting, your doctor may recommend injecting it directly into your joint to relieve symptoms.

The effects can last for up to 3 months. But a huge downside is that these drugs may speed up the cartilage degeneration process. (1, 2)

So, they’re best for managing intense flare-ups – if the treatments above can’t reduce symptoms first.

Treatments for slow but long term knee OA relief

These are the most effective ways to treat knee osteoarthritis. The downside is that their results take a while to show.

It’s very tempting to stop doing them and stick to the treatments above. But the real healing happens here, so you must persevere with these treatments for long-term management of knee OA:

5) Physical therapy (yes, again)

Yes, physical therapy is also key for treating knee osteoarthritis in the long term. Apart from helping you in the clinic, your therapist will:

  • Teach you how to self-manage your condition.
  • Design a treatment plan for you to return to the activities you enjoy.
  • Help you adjust your lifestyle so it doesn’t worsen your condition.

Your physio is one of the healthcare professionals you’ll see the most during your healing process. Make the most out of every session!


Knee Force Knee Sleeve

6) Weight loss

Being overweight/obese is one of the main risk factors for developing knee osteoarthritis. This is not only due to the excess weight on the joints, though.

According to studies, excess fat tissue also produces hormones and chemicals that may speed up the cartilage degeneration process.

So, people with knee OA and a body mass index above 25 will benefit from this. Losing between 5-10% of body weight can be enough to start seeing results. (1, 2)

Medical associations recommend doing this slowly, with a combination of dietary changes and physical activity. (1, 2)

7) Exercise

When it comes to treating osteoarthritis of the knee, nothing beats doing physical activity regularly. Keeping your muscles strong protects your knees from further damage while reducing pain and swelling.

And practically any fitness discipline can get you there. Yes – tai chi and yoga are extremely helpful for knee OA, but you don’t have to do them if you don’t like them. (1, 3)

Instead, choose activities you enjoy. If you’re not sure what to do, discuss it with your physio for specific recommendations.

Other options for the non-surgical management of knee OA

8) Hyaluronic acid and PRP injections

Here, your doctor injects a substance (hyaluronic acid or PRP) into your synovial fluid to promote joint lubrication and/or help with healing. (1)

They become an option when other treatments have failed, but you’re not a candidate for surgery yet. They are safer than corticosteroids, too. (2)

These injections may help relieve knee pain and other symptoms, but not immediately. You’ll need a few doses to feel relief. (1)

9) Dietary supplements

Some people feel relief after taking certain supplements for a few months. Others don’t feel much difference. (3)

Yet, the risk of adverse effects is minimal as long as you stick to the recommended dose. So if you ask me, I think they’re worth a try.

The supplements we recommend for knee osteoarthritis include:

Check this out: Best supplements for knee osteoarthritis.

What to do if these non-surgical treatments don’t work?

Sometimes the pain just won’t subside, even though you’re doing everything right. Sadly, this can be part of the knee OA process and a strong indicator that you may need surgery.



If there’s significant pain that doesn’t improve with any of the treatments above, your orthopaedic surgeon may suggest a knee replacement (partial or total).

Now, the type of surgery to treat your knee osteoarthritis will depend on your age, lifestyle, health status, and several other factors.

Pro tip: We made a decision-making guide to know when surgery is necessary for knee OA. Check it out to help you determine your next steps.

FAQs

What is the best non-surgical treatment for arthritic knees?

There isn’t one single best treatment for arthritic knees. The best approach is a combination of treatments. However, a great starting point is going to physical therapy.

What helps osteoarthritis in the knee without surgery?

Exercise, home treatments, weight loss, pain killers, dietary supplements, and intra-articular injections. There are other treatment options as well, but these are the most common.

Can knee OA heal without surgery?

You can manage knee osteoarthritis symptoms without surgery, but this condition is irreversible. Not all patients need surgery, though.

Conclusion: Non-surgical treatment for bone on bone knees

We hope this list helps you create the perfect combination of non-surgical treatment options for your knee osteoarthritis.

Yet, if you’re not sure which treatments to choose, please reach out to your healthcare team. They’re there to help you at every step of the process.

Resources

  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Management of Osteoarthritis of the Knee (Non-Arthroplasty) Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline (3rd Edition). Retrieved on April 2022 from: https://www.aaos.org/oak3cpg
  2. “Guideline for the management of knee and hip osteoarthritis.” The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Retrieved on April 2022 from: https://www.racgp.org.au/download/Documents/Guidelines/Musculoskeletal/guideline-for-the-management-of-knee-and-hip-oa-2nd-edition.pdf
  3. “Osteoarthritis: In-Depth.” National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved on April 2022 from: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/osteoarthritis-in-depth
Author
Mich Torres (PT)
Mitch is a physical therapist, personal trainer, and nutrition coach. Fascinated with the knee joint, Mitch poured that passion into writing about knee pain and how to overcome it with movement. His goal is to teach you how to apply this knowledge into your daily life, so you can keep knee pain away for good.