The first line of treatments for knee arthritis pain often include physical therapy, periodic rest, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. In some cases, these first-line treatments do not work, and people must continue to look for ways to reduce their knee pain. Below are 6 lesser known, nonsurgical treatments for arthritis knee pain.
1. Switch from the Sidewalk to the Treadmill
Walking or jogging on a sidewalk made of concrete can be hard on the knees. A treadmill has a little more spring and decreases the overall compressive load on the knees. When walking on a treadmill, resist the urge to walk at an incline.
Walking on a groomed earthen trail (such as packed dirt) will have a similar positive effect.
2. Get Shoe Inserts
When the foot under- or over-pronates, the knee joint can become misaligned. Specifically, the top of the tibia (shin bone) may not line up properly with the bottom of the femur (thigh bone). The misalignment causes friction and puts excess strain on soft tissues. A shoe insert can help correct under- or over-pronation, encouraging proper knee alignment.
A physician or podiatrist can help identify what type of insert is best suited for a person’s body mechanics. In some cases, a custom insert may be ordered.
3. Try Gait Retraining
Gait refers to how a person walks. Some people’s gaits produce poor knee alignment, which can lead to worsening knee arthritis and pain. A doctor or physical therapist can look at a patient’s gait and decide if specific changes to gait could make long-term differences in knee pain and joint degeneration.
A physical therapist can help a person change their gait. Some institutions have gait retraining programs.
Changing gait can be challenging and requires active thinking while walking. However, changes to gait can lead to positive changes to knee alignment, improved function, and possibly reduce pain. Similarly, making changes to how a person climbs stairs can reduce knee pain.1
4. Take Vitamin D
Several studies have examined the effects of taking vitamin D supplements on knee osteoarthritis. Results are generally mixed, with some studies suggesting a benefit and others not. More study is needed in this area, but some experts recommend that patients who have both low vitamin D and knee osteoarthritis try taking a supplement.2
5. Start a Food Journal
Certain foods can cause inflammation in the body. This inflammation can cause pain in the knees or other joints, particularly if there is already arthritis damage. Inflammatory foods can be hard to identify because:
- Which foods cause inflammation varies is individual, meaning it varies from person to person
- Inflammation may not appear for the day or two after eating the food
Keeping a food journal can help a person identify if specific foods or categories of foods, such as dairy, exacerbate knee pain.
6. Lose Weight
Truthfully, losing weight is not a little-known remedy for knee pain. Rather, it is a well-known and effective but under-utilized treatment for knee pain. Weight loss takes pressure off the damaged knee joint.
Specifically, losing weight reduces friction between the bottom of the femur (thigh bone) and top of the tibia (shin bone), where protective cartilage has been damaged or worn away. Losing weight also puts less strain on the knee’s soft tissues, including ligaments and tendons.
Patients interested in reducing knee pain through nonsurgical treatments are encouraged to talk to their doctor.
- Yocum D, Weinhandl JT, Fairbrother JT, Zhang S. Wide step width reduces knee abduction moment of obese adults during stair negotiation. J Biomech. 2018 May 15. pii: S0021-9290(18)30350-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2018.05.002. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 29776821.
- Khalaj N, Abu Osman NA, Mokhtar AH, Mehdikhani M, Wan Abas WA. Effect of exercise and gait retraining on knee adduction moment in people with knee osteoarthritis. Proc Inst Mech Eng H. 2014 Feb;228(2):190-9. doi: 10.1177/0954411914521155. Epub 2014 Jan 23. Review. PubMed PMID: 24458100.