How is knee osteoarthritis treated?

Dr. Scott D. Martin, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Osteoarthritis has no cure. Although it is possible to regrow cartilage in the laboratory, implanting new cartilage and getting it to grow in an osteoarthritic knee is challenging and may depend on the amount of arthritis and its location. Like healthy plants in unhealthy soil, the implanted cartilage eventually dies.

Doctors focus on three things when treating osteoarthritis: relieving pain, protecting joints and improving muscle tone to help stabilize joints and prevent deformity.

Dr. Kevin J. Soden, MD
Family Practitioner

Medicines are often used to reduce inflammation in the knee joint but there are several other options which are helpful. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and using special devices to help you get around can also have a big impact on your symptoms. Losing weight if you are overweight or obese can help take pressure off your joint.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Limited scientific evidence suggests that wearing a knee brace or knee sleeve can help improve pain for people with knee osteoarthritis compared to traditional medical treatment. Knee braces help to maintain proper alignment of the joint, thereby decreasing pain. Knee sleeves help to maintain proper alignment of the joint. Some knee sleeves have what is called a "lateral J" pad that prevents the kneecap from moving.

If your knee brace or sleeve does not help your knee pain from osteoarthritis, talk to your doctor. He or she may explore other options, like medications and maybe physical therapy to help improve your pain. If your osteoarthritis is advanced, your doctor may discuss the option of surgery, including a total knee replacement.

There are many ways to treat knee osteoarthritis. Walking and other non-bouncing physical activity, coupled with resistance exercises to strengthen the muscles above and below the knee, are especially important. Acupuncture, tai chi and yoga, weight loss, hyaluronic acid or corticosteroid injections, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and braces or heel wedges decrease pain and improve function. Total joint arthroplasty of the knee (knee replacement) is considered when conservative symptomatic management is ineffective. New treatments with lasers to activate your own stem cells is still very experimental, but very promising.

Some doctors recommend knee braces for osteoarthritis of the knee. Bracing can stabilize and support a weak joint, and can help relieve symptoms when a painkiller doesn’t work well enough. Bracing works best when osteoarthritis affects only one part of the knee, and is a good option for those who don’t want or can’t have surgery. Check with a doctor before using a knee brace. Used incorrectly, a brace can cause more pain and joint damage.

Ms. Karena Wu
Physical Therapy Specialist

Knee OA is treated by strengthening and stretching around the joint in a pain-free manner to reduce the compression that goes through the joint. The stronger and the more flexible the muscles and tendons are around the joint, the less discomfort. Physical therapy also uses modalities such as kinesiology tape, ultrasound, electrical stimulation and heat/cold therapy to help reduce the inflammation, pain and swelling. Joint mobilizations are performed to increase joint mobility, reduce swelling, reduce pain and increase functional mobility.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

If you are saddled with osteoarthritis of the knee, there's a good chance your doctor will recommend wearing a brace. If your arthritis is primarily on one side of your knee, a knee brace can redistribute your weight, which will help relieve pain and improve function.

How well a brace helps knee OA, however, seems to vary widely from person to person. For knee OA, doctors usually suggest a type of brace called an unloading brace. An unloading brace unloads stress on one part of your knee joint by pushing the joint in the opposite direction. This can often help relieve knee pain from OA by putting less stress on the most painful part of the joint.

A knee brace only works if it's the medial compartment of your knee, or the part of the joint on the inner side of your leg, that's arthritic. If you want to try a knee brace, talk to your doctor first to find out if a brace is likely to help and what sort might be best for you.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.