It may be a bit of a cliché, but it’s true: our knees are often the first part of our bodies to signal aging. Knees support our weight daily, and they are typically the joint that gets the most movement. When we are younger, we take our knees for granted. As we age, arthritis in the knee can severely impact our comfort and mobility. If you are suffering from arthritis in the knee, here’s what helps.
What causes arthritis in the knee?
There are over 100 different types of arthritis. The most common form is osteoarthritis, a wear-and-tear condition that happens over time with repetitive use of a joint. As a joint is used, the cartilage surrounding it begins to wear down. Once this occurs and bone begins to contact bone, pain and inflammation result. Over 27 million people in the U.S. suffer from osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is another type of arthritis that can affect the knee. This is a condition of the immune system when the body effectively attacks itself, treating healthy joint cells and tissues as invaders. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs bilaterally (on both sides of the body) and generally affects women between the ages of 30 and 60 more than any other group.
Children can experience arthritis in the knee if they have juvenile arthritis, but this is very rare.
For types of arthritis in the knee, here are 18 treatment options that work.
18 treatments for arthritis in the knee
This may seem counterintuitive (to move a joint that hurts), but low-impact exercise in conjunction with other treatments helps keeps joints healthy and fluid. Exercises like swimming, yoga, and walking work to keep the whole body healthy, strengthening muscles and protecting the knees.
2. Losing weight
The less weight a knee has to bear, the less chance that it will feel the full effects of arthritis in the knee.
Acupuncture for knee pain has been shown to be more effective than “sham” acupuncture. While this doesn’t sound like a glowing recommendation, this type of therapy is free from side effects and is non-invasive. It has no drug interactions and can be put into place with current treatments. These factors make it worth a try.
This treatment is not available to everyone, as it requires a long soak in a hot mineral spring. However, Epsom salt baths may be a good substitution to relieve pain and stiffness.
5. Assistive devices
Knee braces and bandages can provide temporary support and relief. This can be helpful during exercise.
6. Topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
While oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may help with arthritis in the knee, these can come with gastrointestinal side effects. Topical NSAIDs are applied directly to the knee and can provide similar relief from pain and inflammation.
7. Capsaicin cream
Capsaicin cream is a non-drug treatment that uses a compound found in spicy peppers to combat pain and inflammation. This cream can be useful to people suffering from osteoarthritis in the knee, but it may cause redness and irritation to those with sensitive skin.
8. Knee injections
Injections of corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid have both been shown to help with arthritis in the knee. Each of these has its pros and cons, but for some people they can provide nearly instant and long-lasting relief from pain and inflammation.
9. Changes in diet
Although relief is not immediate, changing the diet to include more anti-inflammatory foods can help relieve arthritis in the knee over time. Some people find that eliminating typically inflammatory foods (e.g., gluten, sugar, and dairy) also help to fight pain and inflammation.
10. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, commonly known as TENS, interrupts pain signals sent to the brain with a weak electrical pulse. For some people with arthritis in the knee, this non-invasive treatment works wonders. TENS machines can now be purchased cheaply over the counter, which makes it an easy option to try.
While it may seem strange to prescribe an antidepressant for pain, many people find relief with this type of medication. It may have to do with the way that antidepressants work in the brain, flooding it with “feel-good” chemicals that counteract pain signals from arthritis in the knee.
12. More (and better) sleep
The amount and quality of sleep affects a person’s ability to cope with pain. Too little and poor quality sleep may even increase a person’s sensitivity to pain. While pain can make it difficult to get a good night’s rest, there are ways to improve sleep naturally to help with pain.
13. Decrease stress
As with sleep, an increase in stress can make dealing with the pain of arthritis in the knee more difficult. Decreasing stress by increasing time in nature, exercising more, or meditating may help reduce the perception of pain.
14. Herbal pain relief
Some people find relief using herbal remedies and supplements. These can include things like glucosamine, omega-3 supplements, and teas that include ginger and turmeric.
Massage of the knee and the muscles surrounding it can be pain-relieving and relaxing. Self-massage of the knees is an easy way to increase circulation and blood flow to the joint.
16. Physical therapy
A qualified physical therapist can help arthritis in the knee by moving the joint properly to increase mobility and range of motion. A physical therapist can also help design and monitor a healthy rehabilitation plan for use at home.
When all else fails, surgery may be needed to relieve arthritis in the knee. This can be a full or partial knee replacement for older adults with knee pain or osteotomy and joint-preserving surgery for younger patients.
As with many pain conditions, prevention can be a key part of treatment. Certain risk factors for arthritis in the knee exist, including:
- Weak muscles
- Genetic predisposition
- Overuse of a joint
- Certain autoimmune conditions
- Increasing age
- Previous joint injury
- Physically demanding occupation
- Repetitive heavy lifting
Knowing the risk factors and taking steps to address them can be helpful. Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a proper weight, and practicing safe lifting and exercising can go a long way towards protect knees from developing arthritis in the future.
Do you suffer from arthritis in the knee? What works for you?