Knee osteoarthritis is a common and chronic disease. And although it doesn’t have a cure, it’s still essential to know how to treat osteoarthritis in the knee to slow down its progress. This way, you can live your best life despite the disease.
We don’t want to overwhelm you with many, many treatments available for knee OA. So, here are 10 scientifically-backed treatments for osteoarthritis knee pain relief. Plus, how to know if you’ll benefit from each one.
Below is a quick list of treatment options you’ll find here. Tap on any of them to head straight to their sections, or read from the top:
- Physical therapy
- Homecare treatments
- Knee braces
- Weight loss
- Dietary supplements
- Other treatments
10 Effective treatments for knee osteoarthritis
1) Physical therapy
A physical therapist is a healthcare professional trained to treat pain and movement problems. This includes musculoskeletal and joint pain that’s typical in knee osteoarthritis.
Your physio will work hand in hand with your doctor to make sure you recover properly. A physical therapy strategy for knee osteoarthritis may include:
- Management of your symptoms with active and passive strategies
- Teach you how to manage your symptoms at home
- Give you a tailored exercise program to strengthen your affected joint
- Help you prepare for knee surgery (if necessary)
Would you benefit from physical therapy?
Yes! In fact, anyone with knee osteoarthritis will go to physical therapy at one point or another.
As physical therapists, we use a variety of non-invasive techniques to help you recover or cope with whatever it is you’re dealing with.
Some of these techniques include manual therapy, thermotherapy, electrotherapy, massage, and therapeutic exercise.
Your physio will also teach you the best home treatments for your knee osteoarthritis. This is paramount so you can manage your osteoarthritis in the long term.
See, exercise strengthens the muscles around your painful joint. Over time, this makes your muscles better shock absorbers that help protect your knee from further damage.
Exercise also brings blood flow to the injured area. This, in turn, brings nutrients that your joint needs to repair some of the damage done by osteoarthritis.
Are there exercises that are better for knee OA?
But in reality, the best exercise is the one you’ll stick to in the long term. Your adherence to exercise is more important than the type.
Talk to your doctor and/or physical therapist about other exercise options if tai-chi or yoga doesn’t suit your style.
Would you benefit from exercising?
Yes, most people will benefit from this. Exercise can also help give you better sleep – a supposedly simple task that can be hard for people with painful knee osteoarthritis. (3)
But, if your condition is severe or you have other health issues, please ask your healthcare team about safe exercises that you can do.
They may suggest following a specific home program or walking a certain amount of time every day.
3) Home treatments
Home treatments can vary a lot from person to person. What works for one may not work for the other. But, most patients have some strategies in common.
First, the typical hot and/or cold compresses to reduce pain and swelling. They are also very helpful to manage pain from rheumatoid arthritis.
People without pacemakers may consider buying a TENS unit.
This acronym stands for “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.” This device sends a low electrical current that may provide temporary pain relief.
You could take advantage of that period of relief to do home exercises, for example. Your physio will teach you when and how to use the device.
A self-massage with capsaicin cream is also a great addition to your homecare routine.
Would you benefit from this?
Absolutely. Home treatments are another core part of any treatment of knee osteoarthritis, like exercise.
This is because knee osteoarthritis is irreversible. So, the more you know how to manage your symptoms, the more confident you’ll be. And, the better quality of life you’ll have.
This will help: The best home treatments for knee osteoarthritis
4) Knee braces
These are supportive devices that prevent your osteoarthritis from worsening by promoting healing and relieving symptoms.
There are several types of braces for knee osteoarthritis.
The most popular are sleeves, unloader braces, and hinged braces.
Knee sleeves are similar to socks. They provide compression, which increases blood flow and promotes stability without restricting mobility. Some even double as hot/cold packs.
Unloader braces are made of metal or plastic. They relieve pressure on one side of the knee, thus why they’re ideal for people with osteoarthritis only on the inner or outer portions of their joints.
And, last but not least, hinged braces. They’re known for their knee-stabilizing properties. Wearing them will protect your knee from external forces and help prevent excessive movement.
Would you benefit from wearing a knee brace?
Yes, but only if you choose the right one for you. The appropriate knee brace will help relieve pain and prevent your osteoarthritis from worsening. It will also help you move safely.
You will first have to do some research to make sure you find one that suits your needs.
5) Medications for pain relief
Topical and oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a popular choice for this condition. They reduce swelling and help manage knee arthritis pain.
If you can’t take the drugs above for health reasons, your doctor will likely suggest taking acetaminophen.
Would you benefit from this?
It’s highly likely that you will, but please consult with your doctor before taking any medication. More so if you have a heart, kidney, or liver condition.
Further reading: Review of the top 11 medicines for knee OA
6) Weight loss
Yet, for this to be effective, you should lose weight gradually. This increases the likelihood that the weight stays off. It’s also best to pair this with an exercise program. (3)
Would you benefit from losing weight?
Yes, if your BMI is >25. If yours is below 25, do your best to keep it that way.
Now, if you have to lose weight, please do so under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Weight loss can be difficult – 50% of our ability to change weight depends on our genes, according to research.
So, please be patient with yourself. See it as a long-term goal and focus on improving your habits little by little.
Related: Natural foods that ease knee pain
7) Knee joint injections
Intra-articular injections can help relieve severe pain. Your doctor may suggest them if oral medications aren’t effective anymore and other treatments have failed. (1)
The most common injections for knee osteoarthritis include (1):
As effective as they are for pain management, there’s a potential risk of accelerating osteoarthritis. That’s why your doctor won’t inject them constantly. (1)
Hyaluronic acid injections
The main component of hyaluronic acid is naturally present in our joints. It keeps them healthy and lubricated.
So, the goal of hyaluronic acid injections is to make the joint fluid more viscous. This will improve the function of the arthritic knee.
Platelet-rich plasma injections
PRP injections consist of taking your own platelets and injecting them into the knee joint.
In reality, the results are very similar to those of hyaluronic acid. A disadvantage is that the process to get the PRP injections can be expensive. (3)
Would you benefit from this?
Maybe, if the treatments already mentioned – exercise, physical therapy, brace, topical and oral drugs – aren’t working anymore. Your doctor will consider your medical history and recommend the best injection as he/she sees fit.
8) Knee surgery
This can be an effective treatment for people with severe symptoms. There are several surgeries available for knee osteoarthritis, but the most common are:
This is a minimally invasive surgery. Here, the surgeon removes some of the damaged cartilage and bone spurs that may be causing symptoms.
Recovery is relatively fast and it might offer the same outcomes as physical therapy, but with more side effects. (5)
This is a popular option for younger patients with knee deformity due to osteoarthritis. Here, the surgeon corrects the alignment of the knee joint to reduce the load on the damaged area. (5)
It can delay the need for a knee replacement for +10 years. (5)
Knee replacement surgery
This is the last resort when the pain and/or lack of function severely affect daily life. The joint replacement surgery can be total or partial (5):
- Partial knee replacement – Part of the joint is replaced
- Total knee replacement – The knee is replaced with an artificial joint
Regardless of the procedure, the patient will have to do physical therapy afterward. This will help recover full knee function.
Would you benefit from knee surgery?
Undergoing surgery is a very personal decision.
It can be extremely beneficial for some people, like athletes or someone with severe physical limitations. But, it can be excessive or unnecessary for others.
So, make an informed decision. Talk to your surgeon about the pros, cons, risks, and outcomes of your surgery. Consult with other healthcare professionals as well, like your physio.
This will help: When is surgery necessary for knee osteoarthritis?
9) Dietary supplements
Certain supplements can help some people with knee osteoarthritis. They may be effective in the first stages of degeneration. (1)
The most popular are glucosamine and chondroitin. Both are naturally present in the joints, so taking them, in theory, can help keep the cartilage as healthy as possible.
Other options include turmeric and ginger. These are spices that also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Taking dietary supplements is considered safe as long as you follow the manufacturer’s dose. Also, consult with your physician before taking them if you have a previous medical condition.
Further reading: 9 Best supplements for knee osteoarthritis according to research
10) Other treatments
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a psychological intervention. The goal is to learn which thoughts and narratives fuel your symptoms and manage them to feel better.
It can be extremely useful for people with chronic pain, anxiety, and depression associated with knee osteoarthritis
Also, some alternative therapies can help treat pain.
They may not have much scientific proof showing their success, but there’s numerous anecdotal evidence of people feeling less knee pain.
These include acupuncture, massage, herbal medicine, or aromatherapy.
They may not affect knee osteoarthritis directly but can induce a state of relaxation. This, in turn, can reduce pain and stiffness.
Is knee osteoarthritis curable?
No, this condition is irreversible. But, several treatments can reduce symptoms so you can live a life with as few symptoms as possible.
Is walking good for osteoarthritis of the knee?
Yes. But please consult with your healthcare provider how much you should walk at first to avoid making your condition worse.
What is the most effective treatment for osteoarthritis in knee?
There isn’t one single best treatment for knee osteoarthritis.
But, an effective treatment plan for this condition will combine different strategies. It should at least include exercise and homecare strategies to help you manage symptoms on your own.
Conclusion: How to treat knee osteoarthritis?
There are several ways to treat knee osteoarthritis. But, the 10 treatments above will likely cover everything you’ll need during your recovery.
- 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 on August 31, 2021.
- Bannuru, R R et al. “OARSI guidelines for the non-surgical management of knee, hip, and polyarticular osteoarthritis.” Osteoarthritis and cartilage vol. 27, 11 (2019): 1578-1589. DOI: 10.1016/j.joca.2019.06.011
- Kolasinski, Sharon L, et al. “2019 American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation Guideline for the Management of Osteoarthritis of the Hand, Hip, and Knee.” Arthritis care & research vol. 72, 2 (2020): 149-162. DOI: 10.1002/acr.24131
- 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
- de l’Escalopier, Nicolas et al. “Surgical treatments for osteoarthritis.” Annals of physical and rehabilitation medicine vol. 59, 3 (2016): 227-233. DOI: 10.1016/j.rehab.2016.04.003