Treating knee osteoarthritis can be broken into two components. There’s reducing the inflammation within the knee, and then there’s getting all of the muscles and biomechanics right to take the pressure off the knee so that the same forces are not going through it so the inflammation does not re-accumulate.
A question that doctors who treat knee pain get asked a lot is about supplements. “Are there supplements that are right for me?” is a question that we’ll hear a lot. There are a lot of supplements that are out there, as we all probably know, that are ideally oriented towards treating knee osteoarthritis. The two that have the most research behind them are Glucosamine and Chondroitin.
There has been a lot of controversy over whether or not Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplements actually affect knee pain and arthritis in a positive way. There seems to be a lot of conflicting data, the way I look at it, the research is that there seems to be something to it, and yet the original data that came out was a lot more positive, and some of the newer data is a lot less positive.
What I generally tell patients is that Glucosamine and Chondroitin are supplements that are worth trying; they will not hurt you. It can be a little bit costly. If you feel like it’s helping you, use it, and maybe at a certain point, stop using it and see if the pain comes back. If the pain comes back, then you know that it was helping you or at least doing something. If the pain does not come back, then maybe it did address it and you don’t have to keep taking it if the pain is not there anymore.
Omega-3 fatty acids are another supplement that people take for inflammation in general. And I think that it is nice anti-inflammatory that a lot of people can take. As to whether or not it helps knee pain directly, I think the jury is still out on that. There’s certainly not a lot of great data to suggest that it does. But it does have an anti-inflammatory effect and it may be something to talk to your doctor about.
There are many topical medications. Some are over the counter, such as menthol creams like Icy-Hot® and different topical preparations that can help alleviate pain from knee arthritis. Then there are prescription medications that are topical, like Voltaren® gel, Flector® Patch, and Pennsaid®, which are basically topical diclofenac, or topical Advil®, in other words a topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that diffuse through the skin and can help with some of the pain from different musculoskeletal injuries and to an extent, knee osteoarthritis. It’s probably not going to fix the knee osteoarthritis but it can be a helpful adjunct as one goes through physical therapy.