For some people, surgery is the only option to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. However, there are also several nonsurgical treatments and lifestyle changes that can bring relief.

Finding your best options requires an open discussion with your doctor. Consider discussing the following topics at your next appointment. There might be one or more ways you can manage your knee OA without having to pursue surgery.

Your symptoms

When it comes to your symptoms and how you’re feeling, no one knows better than you do. A clear understanding of the symptoms you’re experiencing and their severity can go a long way to helping your doctor come up with a treatment plan. The severity of your symptoms will also help your doctor know whether nonsurgical treatments will work for you.

One of the best ways to ensure that you tell your doctor everything he or she needs to know about your symptoms is to write them down. Keep track of your symptoms in the days leading up to your appointment, taking note of:

  • the severity of your pain on a scale of 1 to 10
  • where you feel the pain
  • the type of pain you’re experiencing, being as detailed as possible
  • any other symptoms that you’re experiencing, such as warmth, redness, or swelling
  • the activities that make your symptoms worse and any limitations you have
  • what eases your pain
  • how your symptoms are affecting your day-to-day life

Be sure to also bring up any symptoms you are having due to the medications you’re taking.

Your doctor should know if you’re experiencing any emotional distress related to your OA or any treatment you’re receiving as well. For some, the pain of OA and its impact on their ability to do the things they enjoy can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. This needs to be addressed.

What you are already doing to treat your OA

Discuss with your doctor anything that you are already doing to treat your OA. Ask yourself the following questions, and discuss your answers with your doctor:

  • Have you made any lifestyle changes to try to manage your OA?
  • Are you taking any medications or supplements?
  • Do the medications or supplements you take help at all with your symptoms?

Lifestyle changes

More and more doctors are recommending lifestyle changes to treat OA. Incorporating exercise can be one of the most effective ways to treat your knee pain. Strengthening your muscles through exercise can lessen your pain and stiffness and greatly improve your range of motion. It can also slow the damage to your joints.

Eating a healthier diet is another lifestyle change that’s worth discussing with your doctor. Several studies have linked weight to OA of the knee and found that losing even just a few pounds can drastically improve the amount of damage to the cartilage in the knee. It is estimated that 1 pound of body weight is equivalent to 3 to 6 pounds of pressure on the knee joints.

Incorporating foods with anti-inflammatory properties into your diet can also relieve OA symptoms. Ask your doctor for advice on losing weight based on your specific needs. You should also seek suggestions on what foods to incorporate into your diet and which to avoid.

In some cases, a person’s activities at home and work may contribute to their symptoms and the progression of OA. Speak to your doctor about occupational therapy and whether or not they feel you might benefit from an evaluation with an occupational therapist. A professional can assess your activities and teach you ways to protect your joints from damage and pain.


Certain over-the-counter medications, such as anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen, can provide effective relief of pain and inflammation from OA of the knee. For severe pain, your doctor may recommend prescription-strength medications. Ask your doctor about using medication to treat your symptoms, and be sure to inquire about any potential side effects. It’s important to tell your doctor about any medications or supplements that you’re already taking for OA or another condition.

Injectable treatments

Injectable treatments for knee OA are worth discussing with your doctor if you’re not getting enough relief through medication and lifestyle changes. Corticosteroid injections can provide quick relief from your pain for anywhere from several days to several months. The injections contain a combination of cortisone and a local anesthetic that is injected into the knee joint.

Another option may be viscosupplementation, which involves injecting a gel-like substance called hyaluronic acid (HA) into the joint fluid in the knee. HA helps the joint to move freely and better absorb the shock on the joint when you move.

Ask your doctor the following questions if you are considering injectables to treat your OA:

  • Am I a suitable candidate for injectable treatments?
  • What are the possible side effects of each type?
  • Are there any special precautions to consider?
  • How long can I expect the pain relief to last?

Together with your doctor, you may be able to come up with an effective plan to treat your knee pain using nonsurgical methods.