Treatment of knee pain can range from simple, quick remedies to complex therapies; it can relieve knee pain symptoms, eliminate irritating factors, halt the progression of the pain, stimulate the body to repair a damaged knee joint, or in more serious cases, replace the damaged joint completely.
If you are in the middle of some form of early to moderate arthritis of the knee, a combination of simple treatments may do the trick, including:
- Rest, but not too much! A moderate amount of rest can help make arthritis symptoms more manageable
- Apply ice to the affected knee. On the first day of treatment, apply ice to the knee every hour for up to 15 minutes per session. After day one, apply ice at least four times daily.
- Elevate your knee whenever possible to help relieve swelling
- Wear an ace bandage or elastic sleeve to reduce swelling
- Sleep with a pillow underneath or between your knees
- Drop some pounds if you are overweight. The force of any extra weight is multiplied at least three times in your knees. Therefore, if you are 30 pounds overweight, you place 90 to 180 pounds of extra force on your knee joints with every step you take. Read more on weight loss and knee pain.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Popular choices include ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Medipren), which reduces inflammation and provides pain relief; and acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol), which may reduce knee pain but does not address inflammation. There are also issues of liver damage and other side affects associated with over the counter and prescription medication that you will need to research.
- Take glucosamine and chondroitin (see “Glucosamine and Your Knees”).
- Try an herbal remedy. Some herbal treatments that may help reduce inflammation and pain include bromelain, boswellia, devil’s claw, and turmeric. Read more on natural therapies for joint pain
If these treatment strategies are not effective, or if you want to enhance your recovery, talk to your doctor or a physical therapist about specific exercises that can help you strengthen your knee while protecting the joint (see “Exercises for Knee Pain”).
Alternative Therapies for Knee Pain
If you are looking for alternatives to over-the-counter and prescription medications or you want to complement these treatment options and/or glucosamine supplements, you may want to help your body heal with one or more of these body therapies.
- Acupuncture: This traditional Chinese medicine therapy balances the body’s flow of energy, which is believed to help the body heal itself
- Chiropractic: Practitioners manipulate the spine to restore balance and relieve pressure on the spinal nerves that may be prohibiting the body from healing itself
- Infrared sauna and steam: Use of infrared radiation is believed to penetrate deep into the body, improve circulation, and help the body release toxins that may contribute to arthritis of the knee
- Massage: Manipulation of the body’s soft tissues using motion, pressure, and/or vibration can relieve stress, reduce knee pain, and improve circulation, all of which help the body heal itself.
- Physical therapy: Use of various exercises, massage, and other therapies designed to improve range of motion and function and to reduce pain
- Reiki: A form of energy healing that involves “laying of the hands” by a practitioner on a patient for the purpose of improving the patient’s energy balance.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): Use of a mild electrical current into a painful area to reduce the perception of pain. The current can be delivered by wearing a small device on your belt or in your pocket.
- Ultrasound: Use of high-energy sound waves directed into and around the knee to improve blood and nutrient flow into the joint tissues.
Surgery is usually considered only after all other options have been considered and not found to be helpful. Two types of surgery—arthroscopy and osteotomy—can be performed to repair a damaged meniscus, fix a knee deformity, or some other problems. A partial or total knee replacement is major surgery and the ultimate treatment option.