managing knee osteoarthritis
Tips for managing knee osteoarthritis and joint pain
Although any of our joints can be troubled by osteoarthritis, the knee is one of the most likely joints to be affected.1 As knee pain can impact many of the things we take for granted, such as walking or climbing stairs,2 it’s important to find ways to manage it. Medical guidelines recommend that the best way to manage your pain is through a combination of self-help measures.1-4
If your knee aches, starting to exercise is probably the last thing you’re thinking of trying. However, experts recommend exercise as the first thing to do to manage your knee pain.1,2 There are three types of exercise that can help:
- Strengthening. Strengthening exercises keep the muscles surrounding the knee joint strong, helping to support and protect it.1,3 There are specific strengthening exercises you can do for the knee, read the article Exercises to Help Strengthen Your Joints for more information.
- Flexibility. This type of exercise keeps you mobile.1 There are specific exercises that can help improve your flexibility, but you may also want to try T’ai Chi4 and yoga to keep you limber.
- Aerobic. To improve your overall fitness, try aerobic exercises. Take care not to do exercises that could do further damage to your knee, such as jogging. Instead try walking or swimming. Even when walking try to avoid walking up or down steep hills as this can put extra strain on the knee. Stick to flat areas as much as you can.5 Before starting any exercises, speak to your doctor, as they can help create a training program that’s right for your needs.
It’s important to recognize that you may need to learn to pace yourself more when doing your daily activities,1,2 as otherwise there is a risk that you’ll overdo things and cause more damage to your knee. It might take time and a bit of practice getting the balance right between doing things you need to do and taking the regular rests your knee needs.
Lose some weight
We all know carrying extra weight isn’t good for our overall health and wellbeing, but it also increases the stress on our knee joint. Research shows if you’re overweight then you’re more likely to develop osteoarthritis of the knee.6 For every 4.5kg of weight you gain, you increase the risk of knee OA by 40%.6 The opposite is also true: lose 4.5kg and you reduce your risk by 40%. Medical guidelines all recommend losing weight as one of the key measures to ease knee pain.1-4
Managing your pain relief
If you’ve tried exercise and losing weight and you’ve still got some knee pain, then a pain reliever can help. Medical guidelines worldwide recommend paracetamol as the analgesic to use first in relieving osteoarthritis knee pain.1-4 You can take paracetamol up to the maximum dose (4 g/day) to help keep your pain under control.2,4 You could also take an oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) or apply a topical NSAID to your knee for extra relief.1-4
Only use pain relievers as directed and follow the product label at all times.
Get your shoes on
What you wear on your feet can also make a difference. Experts recommend shock-absorbing shoes and insoles.1,2 Choose shoes with low heels that lace up and provide support for the feet and avoid high heels and sandals.5
Going hot and cold
Applying hot packs or patches or ice packs to the knee is recommended as an add-on to other measures.1,2
Knee braces are recommended as an additional way of supporting the joint.1,2,4 These can help reduce pain, make your knee feel more stable and also reduce the risk of your knee ‘giving way’ and preventing you from falling.2
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) can also be used.1,3,4 TENS machines work by sending small electrical impulses into the nerves in the skin, helping to block pain signals.
All of these different approaches can help make your life with knee pain more bearable and let you get on with enjoying the activities you love.
- National Collaborating Centre for Chronic Conditions. Osteoarthritis: national clinical guideline for care and management in adults. London: Royal College of Physicians, 2008. Available at: http://www.nice.org.uk/CG059fullguideline.
- Zhang W, et al. OARSI recommendations for the management of hip and knee osteoarthritis, Part II: OARSI evidence-based, expert consensus guidelines. Osteoarthritis Cartilage, 2008; 16: 137-162.Available at: http://www.oarsi.org/pdfs/oarsi_recommendations_for_management_of _hip_and_knee_oa.pdf
- Jordan KM, et all. EULAR recommendations 2003: an evidence based approcah to the management of knee osteoarthritis: Report of a Task Force of the Standing Committee for International Clinical Studies Including Therapeutic Trials (ESCISIT). Rheum Dis, 2003; 62: 1145−1155. Available at: http://ard.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/62/12/1145.
- The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Guideline for the non-surgical management of hip and knee osteoarthritis. July 2009. Available at: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/file/publications/synopses/cp117-hip-knee-osteoarthritis.pdf
- American Arthritis Society. Practical tips for osteoarthritis of the knee. Available at: http://www.americanarthritis.org/portal/loader.php?seite=practical_tips_for_knee_oa. Accessed August 2010.
- Felson DT, et al. Risk factors for incident radiographic knee osteoarthritis in the elderly: the Framingham Study. Arthritis Rheum, 1997; 40: 728-733. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9125257.