You wake up in the morning, your knees are stiff and your lower back aches. Sound familiar?

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. It is one of the most pervasive diseases in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control. Arthritis is characterized by pain and inflammation located particularly in the joints throughout the body. More than 10 million Americans have knee osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. 

Although osteoarthritis cannot be cured, there are ways to improve your overall health, fitness, and wellbeing by managing the pain associated with it.

 Exercise is one of the most important lifestyle changes a person can make to aid in coping with the pain of osteoarthritis. Patients who regularly exercise will have improved mood, improved circulation, healing, and energy.

According to Jessica Black, N.D., a naturopathic physician based in both Portland and McMinnville, Oregon, exercise reduces pain by increasing the body’s repairing abilities. Depending on the severity of osteoarthritis, some individuals may need specific exercise therapy with a qualified physical therapist to learn what types of exercise will help them most.


Here are some tips for easing pain associated with osteoarthritis using alternative therapies:


Change your diet to avoid inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, sugar, tomatoes, and potatoes. Include healthy fats such as cold-water fish and fish oils high in omega-3 fatty acids. Spicy foods—such as peppers—also have anti-inflammatory properties. Thoroughly chewing your foods can also help with digestion issues as well.

Eating regular small meals, avoiding sugar, eating more protein, and consuming less simple carbohydrates can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Maintaining balanced blood sugar helps to facilitate proper circulation and appropriate healing mechanisms in the body.


Some herbal anti-inflammatory nutritional supplements may help ease pain, such as turmeric and ginger. Some anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical medications can be harmful to the stomach, and in addition, have shown some negative consequences in heart disease. You should, however, seek your doctor’s advice when taking supplements to avoid any complications with medication or to prevent an allergic reaction.


Regular exercise can prevent stiffness in the joints, as well as stimulate circulation and healing. Low-impact aerobic exercise, such as walking, using an elliptical machine, riding a bike, swimming, or water aerobics are softest on the joints while providing maximum health benefits. Other forms of exercise, such as Tai Chi or yoga, can help.

Besides promoting circulation and healing, exercise promotes weight loss, which is highly beneficial for people with osteoarthritis. For people with severe osteoarthritis, physical therapy may first be needed before you start an exercise routine.

Other Therapies

Besides those listed above, these therapies may be beneficial for treating pain associated with osteoarthritis:

  • Acupuncture (or massage) can increase the body’s natural healing circulation.
  • Assistance devices (canes or a brace) may help take the pressure off the joint thereby relieving pain.
  • A castor oil pack is an old-fashioned remedy to relieve swelling or inflammation, and it can be made at home in a compress to relieve joint inflammation. Castor oil is available at most health food stores.
  • Over-the-counter pain reliever creams, such as arnica, may help.
  • A lukewarm bath with lavender oil or Epsom salt.
  • A cold pack after exercise can help prevent inflammation

Want lifestyle tips on managing knee pain? Learn what worked for other patients »