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Non-Surgical Treatment Options for Osteoarthritis of the Knee

Osteoarthritis is a condition that impacts your joints, bones and cartilage over time. It’s a degenerative condition that mainly affects people who are 50 or older, but it can also impact younger patients. In the case of knee osteoarthritis, this is a condition that impacts the cartilage between your knee joints. Over time, regular wear and tear will slowly wear away the cartilage between your knee joint, causing your joints to rub together. This causes pain and discomfort in the short term. Long-term osteoarthritis of the knee can cause further cartilage loss and bone spurs from your joints rubbing together.

Luckily, no matter how advanced your knee osteoarthritis is, there are plenty of treatment options available to you that don’t involve invasive surgery. Explore the most common non-surgical treatment options for knee OA below.

Lifestyle Changes To Improve Knee Joint Health and Reduce Wear

If you’re in the early stages of knee osteoarthritis and are starting to notice symptoms such as swollen joints, slight pain or discomfort, and creaking or grinding, you can easily mitigate the damage by changing basic elements of your lifestyle to help ease the strain on your knees and prevent too much further damage. These lifestyle modifications can go a long way toward preventing the progression of osteoarthritis of the knee. Some lifestyle changes might include the following:

  • Reducing high-impact exercises and activities like running to low-impact alternatives, such as swimming, cycling or using an elliptical machine
  • Losing weight can help reduce the amount of regular strain on your knees and improve your functionality
  • Avoid any risky activities that might negatively impact your condition, such as stair climbing, jumping from elevated places, and repetitious activities that put a strain on your knee joint

You can also improve your joint health by adopting a healthy diet and making sure you are getting plenty of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis. Diet can have a huge impact on your bone and joint health.

Physical Therapy To Increase Knee Flexibility and Strength

Along with lifestyle modifications, physical therapy is another popular non-surgical, non-invasive treatment option for people with knee osteoarthritis. In fact, even those with advanced knee OA can benefit from a healthy PT regiment.

The goal with physical therapy is to strengthen the muscles around your knee joint to maintain flexibility and stability. In much the same way a knee brace can help reduce strain on your knee, improving the overall strength of your knee through physical exercise does the same thing.

Physical therapy also increases blood flow to your muscles and joints, helping to maintain the health of your bones and cartilage, as well as increasing oxygen and nutrients.

Depending on your lifestyle and your needs, your doctor and physical therapist will determine a PT plan designed for you.

Medication Treatments

The list of medication treatments for osteoarthritis of the knee is nearly endless. But the spread falls under three different categories of medication treatments:

  • Anti-inflammatory Medications - Medication taken to reduce swelling and pain in the knee joint include both over-the-counter and prescribed NSAIDs (i.e. aspirin, ibuprofen), COX-2 inhibitors (help reduce strain on gastrointestinal system), Acetaminophen, and corticosteroids which are injected directly into the joint.
  • Anti-progression Medications - These medication treatments are designed to slow the progression of knee OA and help stifle the occurrence of symptoms. DMARDs - both over-the-counter and prescription - are designed to do this. Some examples are methotrexate, sulfasalazine and hydroxychloroquine.
  • Cartilage-improving Medications - Certain chemical compounds can be injected directly into the knee joint to help replace substances that are naturally found in knee joints. Glucosamine and chondroitin are both commonly used, and while they have shown results in removing pain, they don’t do anything to slow or reverse the progression of osteoarthritis of the knee.

Assistive Knee Braces

One of the most common treatment methods for knee OA are assistive devices such as knee braces. Knee braces help relieve the symptoms and causes of osteoarthritis of the knee by reducing the pressure applied on the joint, increasing overall stability and maintaining flexibility.

The most common types of knee braces for osteoarthritis relief are the following:

  • Sleeve or Cloth-based Braces - These offer the most flexibility and the lowest amount of joint support. Specifically, these braces are great for those with knee issues, such as osteoarthritis, but relatively little loss in function, flexibility and strength.
  • Unloader Knee Braces - Unloader braces are hybrid fabric and plastic shell knee braces that offer support to specific side of the knee where osteoarthritis is causing issues. These braces work by “unloading” the weight from a particular range of the knee.
  • Total Support Knee Braces - The most common type of knee brace. These are dual-hinged braces that feature a fabric sheath under a plastic shell and offer the most stability and support while still allowing patients to maintain full flexibility of the knee joint.

In terms of a non-invasive treatment option, assistive knee braces have several benefits:

  • They don’t have adverse side effects the way many of the medications do
  • They don’t involve having to give up activities you love
  • They offer instant relief and, in many cases, long-term relief from the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis

In fact, knee braces have been shown to improve knee function and relieve pain in the long term for patients. In a recent study released by The Surgery Journal of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, they compiled results of 14 recent studies where “almost all articles supported knee brace use and showed it to decrease pain, improve function, and improve the quality of life of patients. One study in 2017 followed patients for long term and found knee bracing to be more cost effective than total knee replacement, and could replace the need for surgery.”