Non-surgical treatment options for knee OA

The effectiveness of certain treatments will vary from person to person and from knee to knee. Success may also depend on lifestyle factors. That’s why your treatment plan for osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee will usually involve a combination of approaches designed specifically to suit you.


Technology is always advancing and today there are braces that can apply corrective forces to the leg to take pressure off areas where the arthritis is at its worse. Originally braces were big and bulky devices, but now there are lightweight, easy-to-use braces such as the Unloader One that are specifically designed for – and proven to help with – knee OA.

Soft Supports

Soft Supports can usually be bought by patients themselves at a pharmacy or sports shop. They tend to be made of a soft, stretchy material and provide a combination of compression, warmth and gentle support. Soft Supports do however not provide the same level of support and pain relief as the Unloader One, specifically designed to treat the symptoms of knee OA.

To avoid putting too much stress on your knee, you may choose to use a walking stick/cane or other kinds of walking aids. You can also get special inserts for your shoes, which are designed to support your foot properly when walking, which may in turn help to lessen the pressure on your knee.

Weight management and exercising

If you can lose any surplus body weight, you will help to ease the pain because the stress on your knee is reduced. Regular exercise can help to achieve that. It can also improve your strength and flexibility, which will help to increase movement and potentially reduce the pain.

It’s important to include joint and muscle exercises, but to avoid as much as possible high-impact activities that increase the load on your knee, such as climbing lots of stairs. Avoid activities that involve twisting or rapid stop/start movements. Try not to bend or kneel down too much, or lift heavy objects. Don’t sit down too often on low chairs or sofas. And if you do have to do any of these things, remember to take a break and give your joints a rest.

Physical or occupational therapy

If your doctor thinks massage and exercises may help, he or she may refer you to a physiotherapist, who can work with you on an exercise program tailored to your needs.

If you would benefit from things like a higher chair or toilet seat (so you don’t have to bend your knees so much), you may find it useful to talk to an occupational therapist, who will know all about special devices to make home and work life easier and less painful.

Alternative therapies

Some people prefer to replace or complement their treatment with certain foodstuffs, dietary supplements or herbal remedies. While these can work well for some, these treatments are not widely regulated and their effectiveness is often not proven, so always talk to your doctor if you are planning to use alternative or complementary medicines/therapies.

Heat/cold therapies

You may find that you can get some relief from the pain and stiffness of knee OA by using heat or cold over your joints. Inflammation and swelling can often be reduced with ice-packs, while heat or a hot compress can help to relax your muscles and increase blood circulation.

Medication and injections

Medication is used primarily to control the symptoms of knee OA, especially the pain. There are a number of prescription drugs and common over-the-counter-medicines that can help. These include aspirin-free pain relievers (paracetamol), anti-inflammatory drugs and creams, corticosteroids (steroids to help control inflammation) and sleeping pills.

Pain can gradually get worse as the OA progresses, so sometimes stronger drugs are prescribed. However, the long-term nature of OA means that taking stronger medication over a long period of time may lead to unwanted side-effects, which have to be taken into consideration when treating the condition.

Injections of hyaluronic acid (found naturally in healthy joints) can also be used to provide temporary relief, while anesthetics with an anti-inflammatory ingredient (commonly cortisone) may help to relieve the pain by numbing the knee. These kinds of injections are well-established treatments, but the results can vary from patient to patient.

Wellbeing and mental health

Chronic or ongoing pain can be a real drain on your emotional wellbeing, as much as your physical health. Try to stay positive by talking things through with your family or friends or maybe finding new ways to relax, like meditation. In some regions there are local support groups for arthritis, with people who understand what it’s like to live with this pain.