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Osteoarthritis Pain Relief: Treatment Options for Your Knees

Osteoarthritis Pain Relief: Treatment Options for Your Knees

Jul 15, 2021

Of the two types of arthritis, osteo and rheumatoid, osteoarthritis is 6 to 10 times more common than rheumatoid arthritis. While rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the body’s immune system attacking joints, osteoarthritis is caused by aging, female sex, and “wear and tear” on the joints. 

With more than 1 in 10 people aged 60 and over having osteoarthritis, there are many disabilities and physical problems endured by over 10 million people in the United States.

One of the most important treatments for these people to help minimize their limitations is osteoarthritis pain relief.

Osteoarthritis, Pain, and Joint Deterioration

Osteoarthritis results when the cartilage between joints throughout the body breaks down. Normally, cartilage acts as a cushion to prevent the ends of hard bones from rubbing against each other. Essentially, osteoarthritis is caused by aging (i.e., “wear and tear” on joints), being female, genetics, being overweight, and sometimes by a past injury to a joint leading to cartilage damage. 

Without the cushioning of healthy cartilage, the ends of bones can rub together with movement causing pain, swelling, and limited joint motion. While osteoarthritis can occur in any joint in the body, it is commonly seen in the hands, knees, hips, and spine, where joints are used frequently and are more prone to injury. 
While treatment includes diet, exercise, medication, and occasionally surgery, osteoarthritis is not curable. The cartilage that has deteriorated over time does not regrow and replace itself. 

Over time, without treatment, arthritis can progress from relieving osteoarthritis pain and swelling to permanent deformation and dysfunction of an affected joint. So, while a cure may not yet be available, it is important to take knee pain relief and its treatment seriously.

Osteoarthritis Exercises

There are several reasons for being consistent with osteoarthritis exercises:

1. Exercise can reduce the stiffness and swelling in an arthritic joint.
2. It can limit further joint damage, which can lead to disability and deformity.
3. It can improve joint flexibility, strength, and functioning.
4. And perhaps most important to many people, even long-term pain relief has been directly linked to regular exercise.

The best exercises for you depends on how severely the osteoarthritis has affected the arthritic joint(s). Initially, most people start with non-weight-bearing exercises that enhance the joint’s flexibility. Once these exercises are mastered and can be done without significant osteoarthritis pain, relief can be improved with weight-bearing exercises to strengthen the muscles passing over the joint. As these muscles are strengthened, the affected joint will become more stable and less prone to pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Some of the commonly recommended exercises for pain relief and improved joint function include:

  • Knee Extensions
  • Lying Leg Lifts
  • Wall Squats
  • Standing Hamstring Curls
  • Seated Hip Abduction
  • Shoulder Shrugs

Unless someone with osteoarthritis has already been taught by a physical therapist, or arthritis specialists, which exercises to do and how to do them, most people looking for pain relief should first visit a specialist. 

This will not only confirm the diagnosis of osteoarthritis, but it will ensure the joint is not being overworked or made worse by improper exercises or exercises that are too strenuous too soon.

Osteoarthritis Diet

Studies have shown what is obvious to most people: dieting to lose weight is helpful for osteoarthritis pain relief, especially in overweight individuals. There is less stress, pain, inflammation, and disability by putting less weight on the joint. But dieting goes beyond its relationship to weight.

Additional studies have demonstrated that lowering cholesterol, increasing the amount of fish and fish oils eaten, and ensuring adequate Vitamin K levels have all been shown to improve or limit the progression of osteoarthritis.

Other studies have looked at the possible role of chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine as supplements that may help to rebuild and strengthen cartilage in arthritic joints. 

So far, these studies have demonstrated that these two supplements can help lessen the progression of osteoarthritis, but they do not help rebuild cartilage or reverse the disease.

For pain relief, chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine are not the answer. Nevertheless, after speaking with your osteoarthritis specialist, a recommendation to take these supplements may help to reduce the likelihood of worsening osteoarthritis.

Painkillers for Osteoarthritis

Before using medications to get osteoarthritis pain relief, it is important to maximize the benefits of weight loss, exercise, diet, and even hot and cold treatments. Alternating hot and cold applications to an arthritic joint can help to improve circulation and relax stiff muscles (heat) along with decreasing swelling and the pain accompanying it (cold).

Nevertheless, even following all of those recommendations, a large portion of people with arthritis will need medication at some point for osteoarthritis pain relief. 

The first group of medications usually tried are over-the-counter pain relievers like: 


For many, these are some of the safest medications and are widely available.

Should the over-the-counter medications not provide enough osteoarthritis pain relief, doctors can prescribe more powerful, but hopefully temporary, pain relievers. 

These include non-opioid and non-addictive medications such as high-dose topical capsaicin, ketoprofen, sulindac, and many more. In the most severe cases, when pain persists despite trials of other medications, opioids can be used, such as fentanyl, oxycodone, and morphine. Most people with osteoarthritis, however, will not need these potentially addictive and seldom-used medications.

Also helping with pain, stiffness, and disability are intraarticular corticosteroid injections directly into the knee joint. Steroid injections are the most common type of medication injected into the knee and other joints as it reduces swelling and pain with few side effects.

Many new medications are being developed for injection into arthritic joints. For example, hyaluronic acid has been shown to provide osteoarthritis pain relief in mild cases with benefits lasting as long as 6 months. Many other medicines are actively progressing through their trial stages adding another reason for contacting a qualified arthritis specialist. They can discuss all of the options, including the latest medications available for arthritis. 

Surgical Options

At times, arthritis can be so severe and debilitating that surgery is required. Fortunately, this is necessary in a minority of cases. When it is needed, an entire joint such as a knee or hip can be replaced with an artificial joint that does not need the cartilage cushion. Other less invasive surgeries are also options. 

However, most of the time, adequate osteoarthritis pain relief and functioning can be achieved with medication, exercise, and a healthy diet. 

The most important thing to know about osteoarthritis, limiting damage and progression, improving joint use, and controlling all the symptoms of arthritis, are specialists available at The Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey.

They have locations throughout New Jersey. For the best and safest osteoarthritis pain relief and any other questions about osteoarthritis, find an OINJ doctor near you.

This article was reviewed and approved by an orthopedic surgeon as we place a high premium on accuracy for our patients and potential patients.