Whether you're climbing stairs, standing on a line or crouching to play with a child, your knees support every move. Many factors can contribute to knee pain, such as overuse, injury and illness. Some medical conditions cause or aggravate achy knees. Bursitis (inflammation of the bursae, sacs that help cushion the knee joint) is an example.

seniorcouplejogging.jpgVarious forms of arthritis can also cause knee pain. These include rheumatoid arthritis, gout and, most commonly, osteoarthritis (OA), which occurs when cartilage—the tough, slippery tissue that cushions bones and absorbs shock—breaks down.

"See your doctor to obtain the right diagnosis," says rheumatologist Joanne Jordan, M.D., director of the Thurston Arthritis Research Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "OA may progress. And knee pain sometimes is a harbinger of other problems."

10 Ways to Ease Knee Osteoarthritis

A mixture of strategies can help protect and stabilize the joint, relieve pain and improve mobility for those with knee OA, Dr. Jordan says. Some of the following therapies can be used for other forms of knee pain.

1. Lose weight. Excess pounds overload knee joints and contribute to pain. Losing as little as five percent of your body weight reduces pressure.

2. Exercise. Low-impact, mild-to-moderate activities, such as walking on flat ground or aquatic exercises, may strengthen surrounding muscles and ease pain. Ask your doctor.

3. Get therapy. A physical therapist can tailor an exercise program to your physical abilities and teach you joint-sparing techniques. An occupational therapist can teach you how to reduce strain from daily tasks.

4. Rest and relax. Balance activity and rest. Stress-relieving activities such as deep breathing and meditation also help you cope.

5. Get enough sleep. Talk with your doctor if pain interferes with sleep. "Sometimes, treating the sleep disruption can help improve knee pain," says Dr. Jordan.

6. Use ice and/or heat. With your doctor's OK, place a towel-wrapped ice pack on your knee for up to 20 minutes to reduce swelling and pain. To ease stiffness, take a hot shower. Before exercise, apply a warm towel or heating pad for 15 minutes or less.

7. Apply a topical pain reliever. Over-the-counter (OTC) topicals, which contain counterirritants, salicylates, capsaicin or a combination of ingredients, may provide mild temporary relief. The topical prescription diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), is approved to treat OA.

8. Take an oral pain reliever, if needed. Acetaminophen is usually the first choice for OA. If it fails to control symptoms, ask your doctor about OTC or prescription NSAIDs.

9. Get a shot. A corticosteroid injection into the joint can relieve more severe pain. Corticosteroid injections can increase the risk of cartilage damage, so they are given at most two or three times a year. Another option: Hyaluronic acid injections, also known as viscosupplementation, help replenish a lubricating substance in the knee.

10. Ask about surgery. If pain continues, talk to your doctor about surgery. Surgery is not a quick fix, but it may help relieve discomfort and, in time, improve knee function.

From our sister publication, Remedy's Healthy Living, Summer 2010

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Published: 31 May 2010

Last Modified: 21 Feb 2012