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If you have mild to moderate knee pain, you can often treat it at home. Whether due to a sprain or arthritis, there are several ways to manage it.
Pain due to inflammation, arthritis, or a minor injury will often resolve without medical help. Home remedies can improve your comfort levels and help you manage symptoms.
But if pain is moderate to severe, or if symptoms persist or get worse, you may need to seek medical attention for a full assessment.
Read on for more information about alternative therapies and supplements that may help ease your knee pain.
If you’ve twisted your leg, taken a fall, or otherwise strained or sprained your knee, it can be helpful to remember the acronym “RICE”:
Get off your feet and apply a cold compress or bag of ice to the knee. Frozen vegetables, such as peas, will also work if you have no ice handy.
Wrap your knee with a compression bandage to prevent swelling, but not so tightly it cuts off circulation. While you’re resting, keep your foot elevated.
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese form of mind-body exercise that improves balance and flexibility.
Tai chi can help reduce pain and increase range of motion. It also involves deep breathing and relaxation. These aspects may also help reduce stress and help you manage chronic pain.
Daily exercise can help you keep your muscles strong and maintain mobility. It’s an essential tool for treating OA and other causes of knee pain.
Resting the leg or limiting movement may help you avoid pain, but it can also stiffen the joint and slow recovery. In the case of OA, not enough exercise may speed up the rate of damage to the joint.
Experts have found that, for people with OA, practicing with another person can be especially beneficial. This could be a personal trainer or an exercise buddy. Experts also advise people to find an activity they enjoy.
Low-impact activities are a good option, such as:
- swimming or water exercise
- tai chi or yoga
However, you may need to rest from exercise if you have:
- an injury, such as a sprain or a strain
- severe knee pain
- a flare-up of symptoms
When you return to activity after an injury, you may need to choose a more gentle option than you usually use.
Ask your doctor or a physical therapist to help you design a program that’s suitable for you, and adapt it as your symptoms change.
Overweight and obesity can put additional pressure on your knee joints. According to the Arthritis Foundation, an additional 10 pounds of weight can add between 15 and 50 pounds of pressure to a joint.
The foundation also notes the links between obesity and inflammation. For example, people with a high body mass index (BMI) have a greater chance of developing OA of the hand than those with a low BMI.
If a long-term health problem is causing pain in your knees, weight management might help relieve symptoms by reducing the pressure on them.
If you have knee pain and a high BMI, your doctor can help you set a target weight and make a plan to help you reach your goal. This will likely include dietary changes and exercise.
A heating pad can help relieve pain while resting your knee. Cold treatment can help reduce inflammation.
Here are some tips for applying heat and cold therapy:
- Alternate between cold and heat.
- Apply heat for up to 20 minutes at a time.
- For the first 2 days after an injury, apply cold pads for 20 minutes, four to eight times a day.
- Use a gel pack or other cold pack more often during the first 24 hours after the injury.
- Never apply ice directly to the skin.
- Check that a heat pad isn’t too hot before applying.
- Don’t use heat therapy if your joint is warm during a flare.
- A warm shower or bath in the morning may ease stiff joints.
Paraffin and ointments containing capsaicin are other ways to apply heat and cold.
In a 2011 study, researchers investigated the pain-relieving effects of a salve made of:
- sesame oil
They found the salve was just as effective as over-the-counter arthritis creams containing salicylate, a topical pain-relief treatment.
Some people find these types of remedies work, but there’s not enough evidence to prove that any herbal therapy has a significant impact on knee pain.
It’s best to check with a doctor or pharmacist before trying any alternative remedies.
There may also be some safety issues. Before trying willow bark, check with your doctor if you:
- have gastrointestinal problems, diabetes, or liver problems
- take blood thinners or drugs to lower blood pressure
- are using another anti-inflammatory drug
- are taking acetazolamide to treat nausea and dizziness
- have an aspirin allergy
- are under 18 years old
Check with a doctor or pharmacist before using any natural or alternative remedy.
Ginger is available in many forms, including:
- ginger tea, either premade or homemade from ginger root
- ground spice or ginger root for adding flavor to dishes
The authors of a 2015 study found that ginger helped reduce arthritis pain when people used it alongside a prescription treatment for arthritis.
Other treatments that people sometimes use are:
- glucosamine supplements
- chondroitin sulfate supplements
- transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
- modified shoes and insoles
However, current guidelines advise people not to use these treatments. Research hasn’t shown they work. Some may even have adverse effects.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate supplements and other herbal remedies. This means you can’t be sure of what a product contains or the effect it might have.
Check with your doctor before trying any complementary therapy to make sure it’s suitable for you.
You can treat many causes of knee pain at home, but some will need medical attention.
Contact your doctor if you notice any of the following:
- severe pain and swelling
- deformity or severe bruising
- symptoms in other parts of the body
- symptoms that persist longer than a few days or get worse instead of better
- other health conditions that could complicate healing
- signs of infection, such as a fever
Your doctor will carry out a physical examination. They may do some tests, such as a blood test or an X-ray.
If you have a problem that needs medical help, the sooner you have an assessment and start treatment, the better outlook you’re likely to have.