Working with osteoarthritis of the knee can be a huge challenge. The pain may not let you focus, or even worse – it can totally prevent you from getting any work done.
However, there are several things you can do to keep knee osteoarthritis pain at bay. Below, we’ll cover 5 that you can try next time you go to work.
And, for full disclosure – I recommend these tips to my patients and I do them myself. They’re based on the current evidence about the topic and my personal experience.
With that said, these are the topics you’ll learn about – tap on any of them to navigate through the article:
5 tips to work with knee osteoarthritis
1) Take movement breaks
Sitting for long periods is terrible for your knees. But you can easily counteract this with a quick, 30-second movement break.
Just stand up and walk a little. Doing this at intervals of 20-40 minutes can be enough to keep knee pain at bay, without affecting your productivity. (1)
Pro tip: These short intervals may be too much of a stretch for some. If that’s you, aim at taking 2-5 minute breaks every 60 to 90 minutes. You’ll get the same benefits. (1)
But what if you work on your feet? Or if you have a physically demanding job?
Apart from wearing a knee brace (more on that below), I’d recommend stretching those sore knee muscles at similar intervals – every 60-90 minutes tops.
No need to have perfect form here. Remember that the goal is to relieve pain and stiffness. To get the most out of it, it’s best to pause for a second and stretch intuitively – like right after you wake up.
2) Wear a knee brace
The right knee brace is an amazing ally in any stage of knee osteoarthritis.
Now, the best knee braces for knee osteoarthritis are:
These are soft knee braces that provide compression, which in turn gives stability, pain relief, and inflammation management. (2)
Further reading: Top knee sleeves for arthritis.
These have metal or plastic hinges on the sides to give extra stability. These are best for knee OA combined with ligament or meniscus problems. (2)
Know more: The best hinged knee braces out there.
These work by decompressing one side of the knee joint. They’re indicated for people with unilateral knee osteoarthritis. (2)
Check this out: Best unloader braces for knee osteoarthritis
Now, a good knee sleeve will be more than enough for most people.
These minimalist garments provide tons of benefits.
I’d recommend wearing a sleeve if your knee pain is acting up before going to work, for example. It can help ease your symptoms so you can focus on your daily tasks. (2)
But if you work a physically demanding job, or if you have to stand for long periods…
Having a knee sleeve is a must.
See, it will support your knee joint while you work. This in turn can reduce the pain and inflammation – both during work hours and back at home.
Also, there’s a huge variety of features to choose from. Some are very minimalistic, others double as heat/cold packs, others have kneecap holes and side stabilizers… There’s a sleeve out there to fit your exact needs.
This will help: The top knee braces for knee osteoarthritis – buyer’s guide
3) Adapt your work environment to you (if possible)
If your work involves long periods of sitting, switching to a stand-to-sit desk will promote daily movement and help ease knee pain. (4)
However, the big challenge is in jobs involving frequent kneeling or squatting, as these movements can worsen your knee osteoarthritis. (5)
Also, the risk of worsening your knee OA increases 3 to 8 times if your occupation combines lifting with kneeling or squatting. This is the case with agricultural workers or floor layers, for example. (5)
So, if your work is very physical, here are some adaptations you can try (5):
- Sitting whenever possible to rest your knees.
- Using telescopic sticks with interchangeable ends for floor-level tasks, to avoid kneeling/squatting.
- Using lifting aids whenever possible to prevent unnecessary strain.
- Redesigning the workplace to make things accessible for you.
However, for some of these adaptations, you may have to talk with your employer.
Here, it’s best to get a note from your physician suggesting the adaptations. You can then send it to your boss and/or your HR department.
This will help you get the workplace adaptations you need to keep doing your job while you manage your condition.
Doing this may be difficult for some. But keeping your employer updated with your health can also protect you, legally speaking. In the worst-case scenario, it may prevent unlawful termination.
If you’re not sure how to handle the legal side of it, please discuss it with a lawyer. Or reach out to a non-profit organization in your country to ask for advice.
4) Create a home treatment routine
Home treatments are a staple in knee osteoarthritis management. They give you control over your symptoms and help you keep your independence. (3)
There are several home remedies for knee OA you can try. Doing the ones that give you the most relief in a routine fashion can:
- Reduce knee pain once your workday is done.
- Prepare your joint for the day.
- Help ease symptoms in the short and long term.
The routine should be customized to your needs, too. It may take some trial and error, but the payoff will be huge.
Here are some things you can try to create your knee OA routine:
Routine ideas to start the day:
- Apply a heat pack to your knee joint to reduce morning stiffness.
- Massage your knee muscles to get the blood flowing.
- Do some light knee strengthening exercises.
Routine ideas to end the day:
- Take a warm bath to relax.
- Use a cold pack to reduce joint inflammation.
- Do light stretches to reduce muscle tightness.
5) It may be time to do some lifestyle changes
Your lifestyle will greatly affect your knee osteoarthritis symptoms – for better or worse.
Making a few changes can reduce your knee OA risk factors, which in turn will manage your symptoms. Heck – doing these tweaks may even slow down the progression of the condition:
If your BMI is >25, losing weight is one of the best things you can do for managing osteoarthritis.
The excess body weight not only puts more pressure on weight-bearing joints. Studies have found that fat tissue produces specific chemicals that can promote cartilage loss. (6)
Yet, for overweight/obese people, losing 5-10% of body weight can make a huge difference in their osteoarthritis symptoms. (3)
But to be effective, the weight-loss process should be slow. It should include a combination of dietary changes and exercise, which will also benefit your osteoarthritis symptoms. (3)
Do physical activity
If you can do only one thing for knee osteoarthritis, do this.
Exercise – of any kind – keeps your joints lubricated and nurtured. This in turn can slow down the progression of the disease. It also prevents muscle weakness, which further protects your knees from damage and cartilage loss. (6)
Ideally, you’d do this under the guidance of a physical therapist or a personal trainer. They can give you the best recommendations according to your specific case.
But if that’s not an option, you can start by walking.
Research shows that walking +6000 steps each day can prevent functional limitation and severe pain in people with knee osteoarthritis.
That roughly translates to 1-hour of walking at a normal pace every day. But if that’s too much for you right now, don’t fret. Start somewhere:
- Take a 5-minute walk around your block.
- Walk to work if possible.
- Get off the bus/subway one stop before or after your destination and walk the rest.
- Find other daily activities where you can add more steps.
But, what if these tips aren’t enough?
Some people get to a point when their knee osteoarthritis symptoms just won’t budge. Even if they follow the tips above to the dot.
In that case, there are 2 things you should do :
Go to a physical therapist
If you’re not going to one already, that is.
A physio will give you arthritis treatments to relieve your symptoms. He/she will also provide medical advice for customized workplace adaptations and strategies.
Your therapist will also guide you on future steps and other treatment options available for your specific case.
Go to an orthopaedic surgeon
But, if the chronic pain is too severe or doesn’t let you do your work, your surgeon may recommend knee joint replacement surgery.
Getting a knee replacement is the last resort. But, it will be extremely helpful if you’ve already tried the conservative route without success. (3)
Learn more: Is it time for a knee replacement?
Can you work with knee osteoarthritis?
Yes, most people are able to work with this condition. If you’re not sure if you can work with knee OA, consult with a physical therapist or an occupational therapist.
Can work promote knee osteoarthritis?
Some occupations can make you prone to knee osteoarthritis. Mostly those that require kneeling, squatting, and lifting heavyweights. (5)
Does knee osteoarthritis qualify you for disability?
In most countries, yes – if you meet specific qualifications. Like being unable to do specific tasks or having physical deformities due to the condition. Check the Social Security requirements of your home country for better details.
Conclusion: Working with knee joint osteoarthritis
Going to work with knee osteoarthritis can be a hassle, to say the least.
But there are several things you can do for managing osteoarthritis – from workplace adaptations to having a home care routine.
Whatever tip you choose to try, we hope it helps you do your job easier. And if you’re not sure what to do, please consult with a healthcare provider – she/he will help you find the best treatments for you.
- Luger, Tessy et al. “Work‐break schedules for preventing musculoskeletal disorders in workers.” The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews vol. 2017, 11 CD012886. 28 Nov. 2017, DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012886
- Cudejko, Tomasz et al. “The immediate effect of a soft knee brace on pain, activity limitations, self-reported knee instability, and self-reported knee confidence in patients with knee osteoarthritis.” Arthritis research & therapy vol. 19,1 260. 1 Dec. 2017, DOI: 10.1186/s13075-017-1456-0
- 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.
- E F Graves, Lee et al. “Evaluation of sit-stand workstations in an office setting: a randomised controlled trial.” BMC public health vol. 15 1145. 19 Nov. 2015, DOI: 10.1186/s12889-015-2469-8
- Palmer, Keith T. “Occupational activities and osteoarthritis of the knee.” British medical bulletin vol. 102 (2012): 147-70. DOI: 10.1093/bmb/lds012
- Musumeci, Giuseppe et al. “Osteoarthritis in the XXIst century: risk factors and behaviours that influence disease onset and progression.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 16,3 6093-112. 16 Mar. 2015, DOI: 10.3390/ijms16036093