6 non-surgical ways to manage knee pain

Mom and Child

Knee pain is one of the most common complaints in adults. Years of walking, running and jumping can lead to wear and tear, stiffness and pain at the knee joint. For some people, the pain gets so bad that simply walking up a flight of stairs causes severe discomfort. Fortunately, there are several ways people can manage the pain without surgery. Try these six strategies to find knee pain relief.

  1. Consistent exercise

    When a person has knee pain, a walk around the block is often the last thing they want to do. Although it sounds counterintuitive, exercise is a crucial pain management tool. Exercise can help you maintain flexibility, manage your weight and build strong muscles to support the joints.

    Specifically, range of motion (ROM) exercises can help you to maintain normal joint movement. ROM movements are often prescribed during physical therapy, which is another tool for managing joint pain.

  2. Physical therapy

    A physical therapist helps patients regain range of motion, increase flexibility and strengthen muscles so that people can get back to their daily routines without difficulty. For some people, years of exerting the body without the proper strength or muscular support leads to increased strain on the knee. Physical therapy helps you re-learn how to move with proper form.

    Your sessions might involve isometric or isotonic exercises. Both these movements aim to help you increase strength and restore function. Your physical therapist may also prescribe exercises to do at home between sessions.

  3. Supplements and medications

    In minor to moderate cases of knee pain, over-the-counter pain medication may be sufficient to lower inflammation and decrease pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen may provide some relief. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe a stronger NSAID, such as meloxicam or etodolac.

    If rheumatoid arthritis is at the root of your knee pain, your doctor may prescribe medications that help slow down inflammation and progression of the disease. These might include disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). While NSAIDs provide relief within hours, DMARDs take a few weeks or months to take effect.

  4. Steroid injections

    If your knee pain is caused by inflammation, a corticosteroid injection may be a good treatment option. During a steroid shot, your doctor administers medication directly into the knee joint. These injections can cause significant pain relief for several months. After 3-4 months, you may need another injection to keep the pain at bay.

    In some cases, your doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroid medications. These drugs can provide relief for patients with severe arthritis or for those who haven’t experienced any improvement after taking other pain relievers. Oral steroid drugs typically are not a long-term treatment option.

  5. Hot and cold treatment

    Heat treatment, cold therapy or a combination of both can help relieve knee pain. Heat helps to relax muscles and decrease stiffness, while cold treatment reduces inflammation and swelling. Some patients with knee arthritis find relief from using heat therapy in the morning to loosen up the joint and cold therapy in the evening to relieve swelling.

    There is no one-size-fits-all approach for hot and cold therapy. Patients with arthritis or knee pain can experiment with when and how often to use heat and ice to relieve discomfort. Patients should avoid applying either heat or cold directly to the joint; instead, use a washcloth or paper towel to avoid irritating the skin. Additionally, limit hot or cold application to 15-20 minutes at a time.

  6. Assistive walking devices

    If knee pain makes walking or everyday movements difficult, assistive walking devices may be beneficial. Walking aids such as a cane, walker or walker-cane hybrid can make a significant difference for patients with knee pain. These devices are especially useful when it is unsafe to walk without assistance. If you are having trouble with balance or experience severe pain, consider trying a cane or walker.

Virtual visits with orthopedics

Select patients can see our providers online from their home or office by using our Virtual Visit platform. This service allows you a fast, secure and easy way to receive care from the healthcare team in a live virtual visit using your phone or computer. The benefits of choosing a virtual visit include no travel or parking, less waiting, significant time savings and the convenience of seeing your physician from wherever you choose. Learn more

Want to learn more about non-surgical treatment options?

If you want to learn more about non-surgical options for knee pain, call our nurse navigator Kathryn Harada today. Kathryn brings a passion for helping patients get back to moving without pain. To speak with Kathryn about your situation, call (805) 955-6233 or fill out the form below.


Kathryn Harada, BSN, BA, RN, PHN, CNOR

To speak with our nurse navigator, fill out the form below:

  • Please enter your first name.
  • Please enter your last name.
  • This isn't a valid phone number.
    This isn't a valid phone number.
    Please enter your phone number.
  • This isn't a valid email address.
    Please enter your email address.
  • Please enter your birthday.
  • Please enter your visit type.
*required field
* Required fields. By providing your details, you agree to receive communications such as annual appointment reminders, health education materials, event information, etc. from Adventist Health. For more information, you can read our legal and privacy policies in the footer below.