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Arthritis in the Knees - Best Pain Relief

by Patty Weasler, RN October 06, 2020 0 Comments

wearing knee brace

For arthritis in the knee, pain relief should be the first goal. Arthritis is a chronic condition that you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life, and sow whether you’re dealing with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, finding the right option for your needs is crucial. Medication, lifestyle changes, braces, and sometimes even surgery can offer the solution you’re looking for. 

Lifestyle Changes

If you have developed knee arthritis there are a few lifestyle changes you should make. These changes can help slow the progression, protect your knee, and keep you comfortable.

  • Weight Loss

    If you carry around any excess weight then you are putting extra strain and stress on your joints. Weight loss doesn’t come easy to most people, so reach out to your doctor for guidance.

  • Modify Physical Activity

    Changing your activities and movements, like minimizing stairs and changing to low impact sports, will limit the stress on your knees.

  • Supplements

    Glucosamine and chondroitin are two supplements that are naturally occurring in joint cartilage. They can be apart of your treatment plan as pain relievers but shouldn’t be the only treatment you use.

Ice & Heat

Icing and applying heat to your knee joint is another home treatment that is effective and inexpensive. Use a hot/cold pack or cold bath to numb the pain and heating pad to reduce swelling. You should ice your knee for 20 minutes then take a break. Use ice anytime you have pain, but it is particularly helpful after exercise or a long day. Make sure to avoid placing ice packs directly onto your skin.

Click here to learn more about alternating hot and cold therapy.


Medication is one of the mainstays for arthritis management. It can help reduce arthritis pain, letting you get through your day.

  • Oral Medication

    Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen) provide pain relief and reduce inflammation. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is another pain reliever that can be used in conjunction with NSAIDs.

    Prescription medication is another oral medication option. There are medications that act as a stronger NSAID and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) like methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and hydroxychloroquine that slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. As always, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before beginning a new medication to avoid any unintended side effects.

  • Topical Medication

    There are creams that work as a topical medication to manage pain. These creams provide temporary pain relief and are especially helpful if you are active at work or in sports. The medication numbs the skin and relaxes muscles. Apply the cream before your activity to help prevent pain or use it after if other pain relievers didn’t quite cut it.

Assistive Devices

Assistive devices like braces, canes, and walkers work to help maximize your ability to function and reduce pain. Each one works in a different way and offers varying levels of support. Check out the specifics below.

  • Braces

    Braces come in all shapes and sizes. They can give you significant knee support or just a little. There are two main types of braces available for those with knee joint pain from arthritis. The first is an unloader brace. This type moves weight away from the affected area of the knee. The second type is a support brace. This kind offers support to the entire knee.

    Looking for the perfect brace? See our guide here.

  • Canes

    A reliable walking cane can help you feel more stable as you walk. They help you balance and offload a small amount of weight for those who need it. With knee arthritis, you’ll want to look for a cane that has the features you’re looking for--whether it’s a stable base or comfortable grip.

  • Walkers

    Walkers take off some of the strain of your lower body and provide the most support and stability while walking. They have come a long way in recent years. There are all sorts of features to help you walk with less arthritic pain. Make sure to review all the features of a walker to help you choose one that fits your needs


Exercise can help you maintain the range of motion in your knee joint, increase your flexibility, and strengthen the surrounding muscles. It’s a treatment that can be done in the comfort of your own home and on your own time. Check out our exercise and balance recommendations below. 

  • Quad Sets

    Grab a small rolled-up towel or pool noodle. Sit down on your bottom with one leg straight out in front of you and the other leg bent at the knee. Place the towel or pool noodle under the knee of the straight leg. Push your knee down into the towel or pool noodle while squeezing your quadriceps muscle. Be sure to keep your heel down on the ground.

    Hold the squeeze for 3 to 5 seconds and relax. Repeat this movement 5 to 10 times twice a day.

  • Tandem Stance Balance Exercise

    Stand in between two sturdy chairs placed approximately two to three feet apart. Standing facing the back of the chair in front of you, hold the chair while placing one foot in front of the other, heel to toe, like standing on a tight rope.

    Hold 10 to 30 seconds.

Professional Treatment

Arthritis is a condition that can cause chronic pain and disability if left untreated. While home treatments can alleviate some of the discomfort, medical treatment from doctors and physical therapists will likely be needed. Learn more about it below.

  • Physical therapy

    A physical therapist is a medical professional who is trained to manage multiple conditions including the muscles and joints. They will give you specific exercises and stretches to strengthen leg muscles and increase your range of motion based on your type of arthritis and its severity. You will be expected to do these movements at home to maximize your recovery.   

  • Injections for Knee Arthritis

    Injections are another treatment option used to treat knee joint pain and other symptoms. Your doctor will need to decide which type of injection is right for you.

    Platelet-Rich Plasma

    Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) uses the patient’s own blood to heal an injury. It can be used for knee osteoarthritis and works by adding growth factors that come from platelets to improve tissue healing. These injections also can reduce inflammation by changing how the immune system responds.  

    Placental-Tissue Matrix (PTM)

    This injection uses placental tissue from a healthy baby and mother after the baby has been delivered. There is a significant amount of growth factors in placental tissue that can be used to aid in arthritis healing. 

    Hyaluronic Acid

    Hyaluronic acid is an injection of a gel-like substance that lubricates the knee joint. In osteoarthritis the fluid around the joint becomes watery so this injection can improve the shock absorption of the joint and offer some pain relief. 


    Corticosteroid injections use a strong steroid medication to decrease inflammation within the joint. These injections can reduce pain and provide temporary symptom relief. Steroid injections can only be performed a certain number of times per year, so be sure to talk to your doctor about its limitations and any potential side effects.

Surgical Treatment for Arthritis of the Knee

When medical treatment isn’t enough to manage knee arthritis it might be time to turn to surgery. There are multiple types of surgical procedures for arthritis, here is an overview of each one

  • Arthroscopy

    Arthroscopy uses small incisions and cameras for the surgeon to get a better look at the joint. It’s usually used when the patient has an additional injury on top of arthritis.

  • Cartilage Grafting

    If you have small amounts of cartilage damage and are young you might be a candidate for cartilage grafting. This procedure uses cartilage from another area of the knee to fill in the holes of the damaged cartilage.

  • Synovectomy

    If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis then a synovectomy might be in your future. It is when the lining of the joint is removed to reduce swelling and pain.

  • Osteotomy

    This surgical procedure is used when one side of the knee has been damaged. The shinbone or thighbone is cut to shape it so that there is less pressure on the knee joint.

Taking the Right Precautions with Knee Arthritis Treatment

When you suffer from knee arthritis pain and stiffness doesn’t have to be a way of life. By incorporating home and medical treatments you can alleviate discomfort. If these treatments aren’t enough then surgical treatment may be necessary. Always talk to your doctor before you begin treatment and to help you form the best plan for your situation.


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Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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