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Managing Knee Osteoarthritis: Non-Surgical Options to Consider

August 11, 2023

Knee osteoarthritis is a common condition characterized by the gradual deterioration of cartilage in the knee joint. It can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduced mobility, significantly impacting a person's quality of life. While surgery may be necessary in severe cases, there are several non-surgical options available to manage knee osteoarthritis effectively. In this blog post, we will explore these non-surgical approaches, including lifestyle modifications, exercise, physical therapy, medications, injections, and alternative therapies.

Lifestyle Modifications

Weight Management

Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for managing knee osteoarthritis. Excess weight puts additional stress on the knees, exacerbating symptoms. Losing weight through a combination of a balanced diet and regular exercise can significantly reduce pain and improve function.

Physical Activity

Engaging in low-impact exercises, such as swimming, cycling, and walking, can help strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee joint and improve joint flexibility. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional or physical therapist to develop an exercise program tailored to individual needs and limitations.

Joint Protection

Joint protection, such as using aids and devices to limit stress on the knee joint, is an important part of managing knee osteoarthritis. Wearing a brace, using assistive devices to reduce impact when climbing stairs or walking, and wearing the right footwear can make a significant difference in joint pain and mobility. Additionally, cold packs or heat therapy may offer relief from discomfort.

Physical Therapy

Exercise Prescription

A physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program to improve joint range of motion, strengthen the muscles around the knee, and enhance overall functional ability. They may incorporate exercises such as range of motion exercises, strengthening exercises, and aerobic exercises to optimize joint health.


Physical therapists may use a range of modalities to reduce pain and improve joint mobility. Modalities are therapies that help reduce inflammation, improve circulation, reduce stiffness, and improve joint comfort. Common modalities used to treat knee osteoarthritis include ultrasound therapy, electrical stimulation, hot/cold packs, and laser therapy. Manual therapies such as soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, stretching, and therapeutic exercises may also be used to reduce pain and improve joint function.


Self-management is an important part of knee osteoarthritis treatment. Practicing healthy habits, such as maintaining a healthy weight and following lifestyle modifications, can help reduce the risk of knee osteoarthritis progression. Additionally, modifying daily activities to reduce strain on the knee can greatly improve quality of life. Regular exercises and stretching routines tailored to the individual’s needs can also help reduce joint discomfort and maintain joint health.


Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with knee osteoarthritis. However, long-term use should be monitored, as these medications may have side effects on the stomach, kidneys, and cardiovascular system. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any medication regimen.

Topical Medications

Topical creams or gels containing NSAIDs, capsaicin, or menthol can provide localized pain relief. They are applied directly to the affected area and are generally well-tolerated with minimal systemic side effects.


Analgesics, such as acetaminophen and tramadol, can provide relief from knee osteoarthritis pain. Acetaminophen is widely available over-the-counter, while tramadol requires a prescription. It is important to follow the instructions provided as taking too much of either medication can cause serious side effects.

Opioids are occasionally prescribed for knee osteoarthritis pain, however, they carry a high risk of addiction and should be used with caution. Corticosteroids can also provide relief by reducing inflammation, however, long-term use should be monitored due to potential side effects.


Corticosteroid Injections

Intra-articular corticosteroid injections can provide temporary relief from knee osteoarthritis symptoms by reducing inflammation and pain. However, these injections are typically limited to a few times per year due to potential side effects such as cartilage damage and increased risk of infection.

Hyaluronic Acid Injections

Hyaluronic acid injections involve injecting a gel-like substance into the knee joint to provide lubrication and shock absorption. These injections can help reduce pain and improve joint function, but the benefits may vary among individuals.

Alternative Therapies


Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to promote pain relief and overall well-being. Some studies have suggested that acupuncture may provide short-term relief for knee osteoarthritis symptoms, although further research is needed to fully understand its effectiveness.

Mind-Body Techniques

Techniques such as meditation, relaxation exercises, and mindfulness-based stress reduction can help manage pain, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being. These techniques may be used in conjunction with other treatments to enhance their effectiveness.


Certain supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, have been popularly used for knee osteoarthritis. While scientific evidence regarding their efficacy is mixed, some individuals may find them beneficial. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplements, as they may interact with other medications or have potential side effects.

Assistive Devices


Knee braces can provide support, stability, and pain relief for individuals with knee osteoarthritis. They can help reduce strain on the joint and improve overall function.


Custom orthotic devices can help correct any biomechanical abnormalities in foot and ankle alignment, reducing stress on the knee joint and improving gait mechanics.

It is crucial to remember that the effectiveness of non-surgical options may vary among individuals, and a combination of different approaches may be necessary for optimal symptom management. Moreover, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a specialist in orthopedics to determine the most appropriate treatment plan based on individual circumstances.



In conclusion, managing knee osteoarthritis without surgery is possible through various non-surgical options.

Lifestyle modifications, physical therapy, medications, injections, alternative therapies, and assistive devices can effectively alleviate pain, improve joint function, and enhance overall quality of life. By adopting a multidimensional approach, individuals with knee osteoarthritis can find relief and maintain their mobility and independence for as long as possible.