- limit activities that put stress on your knees.
- apply ice.
- use over-the-counter pain relievers, ideally aspirin or another nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen or naproxen.
- use a knee support.
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Tips 1:How to Ease Knee Pain
The cartilage in your knees can naturally wear down as you age, causing osteoarthritis. The accompanying knee pain can make simple tasks like walking and climbing stairs painful. Medications — such as anti-inflammatories, intra-articular steroids, and hyaluronate injections — are often prescribed to treat osteoarthritis knee pain. However, natural remedies can also help provide knee pain relief either on their own or in combination with conventional treatments, says William Martin, MD, a rheumatologist at UCLA Health in Los Angeles. Try these 12 tips to help relieve knee pain — just be sure to talk to your doctor before you test them out.
Tips 2:Weight Loss
“Every pound you lose is less stress on your knee joints,” Dr. Martin says. On level ground, every step you take puts pressure on your knees equal to 1½ times your body weight, according to Harvard Medical School. Add stairs, and the pressure on your knees increases to double or triple your body weight. That’s why it’s important lose weight if you’re overweight, and to maintain your weight at a healthy level once you get there. Losing weight also makes it easier to be active, and staying active is better for your knee joints than sitting still, Martin notes.
People with osteoarthritis of the knee often shy away from exercise because it can hurt, Martin says, “but being fit aerobically and maintaining muscle strength is very important to avoid muscle atrophy that can make symptoms worse.” The Arthritis Foundation recommends mini-squats as well as quad and hamstring stretches to help keep your knees strong. Start slowly and build up the number of reps you do. You can also work with a physical therapist to tailor exercises to your condition, suggests William Behrns, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. A study of 58 adults with knee osteoarthritis found that a targeted strengthening program improved quadriceps strength, important for supporting the knee. Results appeared in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders in January 2016.
Tips 4:A Healthy Diet
Osteoarthritis also involves inflammation of knee joints, “so it seems prudent for people to eat a diet that reduces inflammatory markers,” says Kim Larson, RDN, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, founder of Total Health, a nutrition consulting company, and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables because they’re high in phytonutrients, including inflammation-fighting antioxidants such as vitamins C, D, E and selenium. They’re also low in calories, so a diet favoring them helps you lose weight, Larson says. Add cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring, to the menu. They’re high in omega-3 fatty acids, also known to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Gentle progressive stretching can improve blood flow and flexibility to stiff joints, says Shawn Talbott, PhD, CNS, LDN, author of Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living. “Improving blood flow helps flush the joint and surrounding tissues with the delivery of oxygen and nutrients and removal of breakdown products,” he says. In addition, gentle movement that takes you through a range of motion, such as the practice of tai chi, may help, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Tai chi also makes the list of the American College of Rheumatology recommendations for managing knee arthritis.
Tips 6:Ice and Heat Therapy
“Ice is mother nature’s anti-inflammatory,” says Darwin Chen, MD, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in joint replacement surgery of the hip and knee and an assistant professor of orthopedics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “Ice can be good at the end of a long day if your knee becomes inflamed,” he says, adding that heat is good for warming up your knee in preparation for an activity. Never apply ice directly to your skin; place a towel between your skin surface and the ice source to protect it.
Tips 7:Topical Therapies
If you don’t tolerate oral NSAIDs well, you might want to ask your doctor about using a topical cream or gel form, and applying it to your knees where it’s absorbed through the skin. Unlike a fast-acting pill, it may take a few days before you feel any effect, according to Arthritis Research UK. Another topical option is capsaicin cream, made from the active ingredient in hot peppers. The cream can help change the way you perceive pain and may help provide relief. If these remedies are not enough to relieve your osteoarthritis knee pain, be sure to talk to your doctor, as you may require a change in your prescribed treatment plan.
Some people with osteoarthritis respond to acupuncture, especially those with arthritis of the knee or spine, according to the Arthritis Foundation. It’s also one of the non-drug approaches recommended by the American College of Rheumatology. Acupuncture combined with moxibustion, a technique that involves burning the herb mugwort close to the skin, is the main course of Chinese medical treatment for osteoarthritis, says Ming Jin, PhD, an acupuncturist and founder of the Ming Qi Natural Healthcare Center in New York City. Moxibustion can be as effective as oral medications for treating knee arthritis, according to a study published in Medicine in February 2016. Your treatment should be tailored to your disease stage and may include acupuncture, acupressure, and moxibustion, Jin notes.
Tips 9:Physical Therapy
Physical therapy can help you maintain flexibility, strength, and knee function, and also help you learn how to better manage your arthritis, Behrns says. A physical therapist can outline a program of strengthening exercises you can do at home. He or she can show you how and when to properly apply ice and heat to your knees and guide you in choosing and using assistive devices, such as a cane, walker, and braces to help ease pain while improving mobility. The number of sessions you’ll need depends on your level of function, Behrns says.
Tips 10:Occupational Therapy
An occupational therapist can suggest ways to minimize stress on your knees as you go about your daily routine, says Jane McCabe, MS, OTR/L, an occupational therapist in Orange County, California. Strategies learned through occupational therapy might be as simple as always sitting in a chair that has arms, which you can push off from when you go from sitting to standing. McCabe often recommends that her patients wrap their knees with kinesiology tape. Taping can reduce pressure on the soft tissue around the knee that is inflamed and causing pain, according to The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
Tips 11:Massage Therapy
Massage therapy can help reduce knee pain — at least in the short-term, according to a research review published in the Journal of Physiotherapy in July 2015. Another study, published in 2014 in the Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, found that massage helped provide relief when combined with an exercise program. It’s not clear how massage helps, but one theory is that it lowers production of a neurotransmitter (substance P) that is linked to pain, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Because it simply feels good, massage can also help relieve stress, which, in turn, can relieve osteoarthritis knee pain and even help you sleep better, the foundation adds.
Tips 12:Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
This type of high-frequency electrical stimulation through the skin can help reduce osteoarthritis knee pain, Behrns says. It works by helping to strengthen the quadriceps muscles that support the knee, according to the Arthritis Foundation. TENS machines, which are available for the home, send pulses to your nerve endings through pads that you place on your skin. The treatment is also offered by physiotherapists in healthcare facilities. As with all natural remedies for knee pain, not everyone will benefit, according to Arthritis Research UK.
A number of supplements have been shown to help reduce inflammation and rebuild joint cartilage, Talbott says. Some, including curcumin (found in the spice turmeric), willow bark, and ginger, have been shown to reduce knee pain in people with osteoarthritis, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. SAM-e is believed to both stimulate cartilage growth and reduce pain perception, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Glucosamine and chondroitin, alone or in combination, help some people with knee pain, but studies over the years have shown they don’t work for everyone and their benefits are modest at best. Since some supplements interfere with other medications, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a supplement regimen
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Choose the Right Knee Brace for Knee Pain
There’s no doubt knee braces are important when nursing an injury or for injury prevention, but choosing the right one can be a daunting task. Knowing more about how to pick the best knee brace for your individualized needs by using a knee support guide can make the process more enjoyable.
When to Wear a Knee Brace
In general, braces should be worn if you’re having knee pain or you wish to prevent injuries during high contact sports where there is a higher likelihood of knee injury. Knee braces can also be used for rehabilitative purposes, for example, following an ACL injury. The brace will provide slow, limited movement allowing the patient to gradually regain their range of motion. Knee braces also come in handy for arthritis sufferers as it can aid in reducing pain and inflammation. Your doctor can help you decide if it’s necessary.
Levels of Protection
When choosing a knee brace, look for levels of protection ranging from 1 to 3+. A level 1 brace offers the least amount of support, but is the most flexible, such as a knee sleeve. It’s best for pain relief and mild to moderate support when remaining fully active. Level 2 braces offer more protection than level 1, they aren’t as flexible, but still allow for a range of movement. Wraparound braces and knee straps are good examples. You’ll receive mild to moderate knee support for pain relief associated with ligament instabilities and tendonitis. A level 3 brace, such as a hinged knee brace, offers you the most support but limited movement. This type of brace is also generally heavier. It’s best for recovering from surgery, when knee movement should be limited to prevent reinjuring yourself. To take it a step further, there is always the option of 3+ level for maximum protection. This level is best for aiding in pain relief and support for moderate to major instabilities and conditions.
Types of Knee Braces
There are several types of knee braces available to choose from, such as sleeves, wraparound braces, hinged braces, and straps.
1. Knee sleeves come in different sizes, and you can slip them right over your knee. They provide knee compression, which helps control swelling and pain. Knee sleeves often work well for mild knee pain, and they help minimize arthritis. Sleeves are comfortable and can fit under clothing.
2. Wraparound or dual-wrap braces work well for athletes experiencing mild to moderate knee pain, providing more support than sleeves. These braces are easy to put on and take off, and can be used while training — they don’t have the bulk and heaviness of hinged braces.
3. Hinged knee braces are often used post-surgery, for patients and athletes who need a higher level of protection and support. This type of brace keeps your knee in the proper alignment when it bends, to help heal and avoid further injuries. Your doctor may recommend a hinged knee brace after surgery, but another type of brace when you’ve reached a certain point in the healing process. Hinged braces are either rigid or soft, with soft ones providing less support than rigid braces.
4. A Knee strap is a great solution if you suffer from knee pain due to runner’s knee or jumper’s knee (patellar tendonitis), Osgood-Schlatter disease, or patella tracking. It can fit under clothes and is easy to put on and take off. Wearing this type of strap helps prevent patella injuries and minimizes knee pain by putting compression on your patellar tendon.
5. Closed and open patella braces might be confusing when you see some braces with an open patella (a hole in the center of the brace) and others with a closed patella (no holes). Braces with an open patella allow relief of knee pressure and extra knee cap support with proper movement and tracking. Closed patella braces, on the other hand, offer compression at the knee cap with the same pressure as the rest of the knee and additional support. Ask your doctor if you are unsure which is a better option for your needs.
How Tight Should the Brace Be?
You’ll want to have compression —a feeling of tightness— in your knee when using a knee brace. It should feel comfortable and provide a level of support necessary based on your individualized needs. However, if the brace is uncomfortably tight and you’re losing circulation, it’s time to loosen the straps or choose a larger sized brace. Rigid braces provide more support and feel rigid, while compression sleeves allow for more movement but less support. Use a size chart to determine which flexible knee sleeve to choose based on the circumference (distance around) your knee below the center of the knee cap.
Which Brace to Choose?
The right knee brace for you depends on the level of support needed and/or what your doctor recommends. This decision is based on whether or not you’re recovering from surgery, the type of injury you have, and how much movement your knee should be getting.