Non-Surgical Options

Non-Surgical Treatment for Arthritis of the Knee

Before deciding on knee surgery, your physician may try several knee surgery alternatives to relieve the pain and inflammation in your knee.

Lifestyle Modification

The first alternative to knee surgery most physicians try is lifestyle modification. This may include weight loss, avoiding activities such as running and twisting which can aggravate the knee injury, modifying exercise to no- and low-impact, and other changes in your daily routine to reduce stress on your knee.

Exercise and Physical Therapy

Exercise and physical therapy may be prescribed to improve strength and flexibility. Exercises may include strengthening exercises such as riding a stationary bike, and stretching exercises such as flexing the ankle up and down, tightening and holding thigh muscles, sliding the heel forward on the floor, leg lifts, and knee extensions.

Exercise can strengthen your leg muscles and reduce your pain. If you really need knee surgery, this may not help, but many forms of knee pain can be mitigated by exercise.

Anti-inflammatory Medications

Arthritis pain is caused by inflammation in the knee as the bones rub against each other due to eroded cartilage. Reducing the inflammation of the tissue in the knee can provide temporary relief from pain and delay knee surgery. Anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to decrease swelling in the joint.


A dietary supplement called glucosamine/chondroitin may improve the joint’s mobility and decrease pain from arthritis of the knee. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate can slow the deterioration of cartilage in the joint, reducing the pain of bone on bone. Both are naturally occurring molecules in the body. Glucosamine is thought to promote the growth of new cartilage and repair of damaged cartilage, while chondroitin is believed to promote water retention, improving the elasticity of cartilage, and also to inhibit cartilage-destroying enzymes.

Intra-articular (within the joint) Treatments

These treatments involve one or more injections into the knee joint. There are two types of intra-articular treatments:

Corticosteroid injections – Corticosteroids are natural substances known as hormones. They can provide pain relief and reduce inflammation with a subsequent increase in quadriceps (thigh muscle) strength. However, the effects are not long-lasting, and no more than four injections should be given per joint per year.

Viscosupplementation – Viscosupplementation is a way of adding fluid to lubricate the joint and make it easier to move. There is less fluid in a knee with osteoarthritis than in a healthy knee. Three to five weekly shots are needed to reduce the pain, but the pain relief is not permanent. Many patients experience improvement for weeks to months, however, and find the process highly worthwhile.


A brace may be used to provide external stability to the knee joint. Braces are devices made of plastic, metal, leather and/or foam and are designed to stabilize a joint, reduce pain and inflammation and strengthen the muscles of the knee. By putting pressure on the sides of the joint, the brace causes the joint to realign, which in turn decreases the contact between the two rough bone surfaces and reduces the pain while increasing mobility.

As you can see there are several non-surgical options for treating osteoarthritis. These methods can delay knee surgery by providing short-term relief. However, any drug therapy program is likely to have side effects which should be taken into consideration. Non-surgical procedures may also have limited results compared to the long-term results of knee surgery.

Knee Replacement Surgical Options