Overview

Knee replacement surgery should never be the first option for treating knee pain. Alternative treatments can help relieve pain and its causes in this part of the body. If you’re experiencing knee pain, ask your doctor about less invasive ways to address it.

Weight loss and exercise

Losing pounds may help you lose the pain. According to the John Hopkins Arthritis Center, being just 10 pounds overweight can add up to 60 pounds of force on your knee with each step. Exercise can help you achieve your weight loss goal while strengthening your muscles and reducing pain.

Working with a physical therapist

A physical therapist can design a regimen that reduces pain and strengthens the key muscles that affect your knees. They can work with you to make sure you’re doing exercises correctly. Your physical therapist may apply ice and heat. They might also try electrical stimulation, ultrasound therapy, or other procedures that can increase blood flow to the skin, helping to reduce pain.

Knee injections (hyaluronic acid)

Knee injections of hyaluronic acid lubricate the knee joint and help improve shock absorption. The procedure can reduce pain and improve knee mobility. Potential side effects include additional swelling and pain. You may have an allergic reaction if you’re already allergic to eggs or poultry.

Medication or cortisone shots

Medication, including over-the-counter pain relievers and topical creams with the numbing agent lidocaine or bupivacaine, may help control your knee pain. Your doctor might also recommend a steroid injection to reduce the inflammation in your knee.

The steroids are injected at the site of inflammation. They mimic naturally occurring hormones in your body. Steroid injections usually work to relieve pain within a few days and last several weeks.

Side effects include:

Acupuncture as an alternative treatment

This ancient Chinese method uses sharp, thin needles to impact nerves and change the flow of energy within the body. Acupuncture has become more popular recently as an alternative treatment for pain. Research shows that acupuncture can dramatically reduce knee pain for some people.

Prolotherapy to stimulate healing

Prolotherapy is an approach that uses an irritant solution, most commonly dextrose, injected into the ligament or tendon to increase blood flow and supply of nutrients. The dextrose solution is a sugar mixture. This treatment aims to irritate the tissue to stimulate the healing process.

The therapy usually requires four to six treatments over a period of three to six months. The research is inconclusive as to how effective this procedure is. It may be helpful when it’s used with other therapies.

Arthroscopic surgery

A surgeon may suggest arthroscopic surgery to remove bone fragments, pieces of torn meniscus, or damaged cartilage, as well as repair ligaments. An arthroscope is a type of camera that allows a surgeon to view the inside of your joint through a small incision. After making two to four incisions, the surgeon uses the arthroscope to operate on the inside of your knee.

This technique is much less invasive than traditional surgery. People mostly go home the same day as their surgery. Within a week, you no longer need crutches, and you can drive and resume your daily activities.

Regeneration of tissue through stem cells

This experimental treatment uses bone marrow stem cells from the hip to help regenerate cartilage tissue in the knee. A small but growing number of doctors are turning to cutting-edge stem cell therapy as an alternative to knee replacement surgery. One study found that stem cell therapy after knee surgery helped reduce pain and repair the knee.

Plasma-rich protein injections

Injection of an osteoarthritic knee with plasma-rich protein (PRP) is an experimental treatment. Platelets containing growth factors are separated via centrifuge from blood supplied by the person undergoing the procedure. These platelets are then injected into the knee joint.

It has been reported to help with pain relief, but not to regenerate cartilage. However, no long-term studies have been conducted to support this use of PRP for pain relief. Additionally, most insurance won’t cover this procedure, and the out-of-pocket expenses can be significant.

Knee osteotomy

People with a knee deformity or damage to only one side of their knee may benefit from an osteotomy. This procedure shifts the weight-bearing load off the damaged area of the knee. However, relatively few people are good candidates for the procedure. Knee osteotomy is usually used for younger people with limited knee damage.

Weigh your options

It’s important to consider all your options and explore alternatives to knee replacement surgery. However, discuss the procedure with your doctor if you’ve exhausted your options or your surgeon feels that your knee requires a total or partial replacement. Delaying a necessary surgery can cause additional long-term problems.