People may be able to relieve knee arthritis symptoms without surgery. Anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, physical therapy, massages, and supplementation may all help ease symptoms.

Arthritis is the inflammation of one or more joints. A person may experience the following symptoms:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • stiffness

The condition occurs as a result of wear and tear on the cartilage over time. It can affect any joints in the body but often occurs in the knees. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of knee arthritis.

Arthritis has no cure, but many treatment options can help improve the symptoms.

Doctors may recommend nonsurgical treatments for knee arthritis, such as oral medications, physical therapy, or lifestyle strategies. A combination of nonsurgical approaches may help improve knee arthritis symptoms. In most cases, surgical procedures are the last resort.

This article looks at 10 knee arthritis treatment options without surgery, how they work, their benefits for arthritis, and any possible downsides. We also briefly outline the surgical options for treating knee arthritis.

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Anti-inflammatory medications help reduce the inflammation and pain people may experience in their knee joints as a result of arthritis.

Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) a person may use include:

Topical NSAIDs, such as Voltaren gel, are also available. A person can apply these directly to the knee to help relieve pain and inflammation.

Prescription-strength options may include NSAIDs such as Celebrex and Meloxicam. Doctors may prescribe these drugs on a case-by-case basis depending on the severity of arthritis symptoms, as stronger medications carry a risk of side effects. A person should discuss their medication options with a medical professional before starting any course of treatment.

A 2019 review suggests that NSAIDs are the most effective treatment for knee arthritis if a person uses them continuously. Doctors will often prescribe NSAIDs in conjunction with other treatments to help relieve pain and improve function.

Acetaminophen is another recommended anti-inflammatory option to relieve mild to moderate pain from knee OA.

Read more about medication for arthritis pain relief.


A doctor may consider using stronger pain relievers, such as opioids, for severe pain or if a person’s arthritis does not respond to other treatments.

Similarly, doctors may administer other NSAIDs, such as COX-2 inhibitors, at the lowest dose for a limited time because of possible adverse effects.

Medical professionals may monitor people for the following types of side effects:

  • gastrointestinal
  • hepatic
  • cardiovascular
  • renal

Read more about medications for chronic pain.

Injecting corticosteroids, which doctors often call cortisone shots, can help target joint inflammation and reduce pain from knee arthritis.

When medical professionals inject them directly into the joint, steroids have an anti-inflammatory effect. Doctors refer to this method as intra-articular injection.

Hyaluronic acid injections are another main type of intra-articular injection. These injections can help ease pain and improve mobility for some people.


Repeated cortisone injections may deteriorate articulate cartilage. Therefore, doctors use these injections with caution. A person will usually be able to get only three or four shots per year.

Another type of intra-articular injection is platelet-rich plasma. There is currently little reliable evidence for its use in managing knee OA, but no major safety issues have arisen.

Learn more about injections for knee OA.

Orthotics are supports or braces that can help improve joint function.

Knee bracing may reduce the weight on the affected side of the knee. Research has shown that it can help a person regain function and stability in the joint.

People may also use orthotic shoe inserts or specific shoes, which can help absorb the shock that movement may cause.


A person may need to have braces custom-made to ensure that they target a specific area. This can make these devices a more expensive option. A person can discuss their options with a qualified professional.

Find out what are the best knee braces.

A person may also benefit from supportive devices and mobility aids, such as crutches or canes, to aid their walking and movement. A walking stick may reduce the weight and stress on a painful knee.

People can buy simple orthotics over the counter, but a physical therapist or occupational therapist may need to recommend more specialized equipment.

Supportive devices may present some financial challenges, as some Medicare plans will cover only a certain percentage of the total cost of mobility devices. People can discuss their options with their insurance providers.

Learn more about Medicare and assistive devices.

A person can apply this tape to help reduce arthritis pain and improve their range of motion.

In a small-scale 2017 study involving 42 people with knee OA, half the participants used kinesiology tape and the other half used a placebo tape.

The researchers found that the kinesiology tape resulted in the following:

  • better pain relief
  • improvement in walking
  • better range of motion in the knee

A 2020 review also found that the tape reduced pain and improved functioning and muscular strength.


Excessive use of kinesiology tape may lead to skin issues such as:

  • allergic reactions
  • irritation due to sweating
  • skin side effects after showering with the tape on

If itchiness or other skin symptoms appear, doctors recommend that a person remove the tape. People can discuss possible risks and prevention with a medical professional.

Find out more about kinesiology tape for knee arthritis.

Physical therapy can significantly reduce pain and improve functioning in people with arthritis.

This treatment aims to increase the range of motion and flexibility in a person’s joints. Symptoms such as stiffness and pain may worsen if a person is not consistently active.

Physical therapists may provide a range of muscle-strengthening exercises and techniques to help with:

  • strengthening and stretching
  • relieving the stress on joints
  • improving mobility

A 2019 review looked at different forms of physical therapy, including:

The research showed that these therapies significantly improved pain and function without adverse effects.


Because physical therapy programs can vary widely, people should consider discussing their options with a trained professional before trying any new regimen.

Read more about physical therapy and arthritis pain.

Lifestyle-specific advice may involve modifying a person’s everyday activities to manage any pain or functional issues they experience daily.

Nonsurgical management of knee OA may also include efforts to reach or maintain a moderate weight and strengthen muscles.

The muscles surrounding the knee joint may absorb any shock that activities place on the joint. Excess weight may add further pressure to the joint during activity.

Weight loss, through exercise or diet, is generally a safe and effective way to improve knee arthritis symptoms with few or no adverse effects.


Some people may need more support than others in maintaining a moderate weight, as some activities could lead to further flares of symptoms or worsening of a person’s general health. In these cases, a person may benefit from weight counseling from a healthcare professional.

Learn more about home remedies for arthritis.

Some people may take supplements to support joint health. Most supplements reduce inflammation from arthritis and protect the cartilage in the joints.

Supplements such as glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate have wide use. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate may support cartilage function and stability.

Although glucosamine and chondroitin may not have conclusive benefits, these supplements do not present safety concerns, so doctors may still recommend them. A person can discuss the potential benefits with their doctor.

People may also take the following supplements:

  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • SAM-e
  • curcumin


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the use of supplements for arthritis. As a result, use of these compounds could result in side effects or negative interactions with medications.

Because research is inconclusive on the use and benefit of supplements, a person should consult their doctor before taking any supplements.

Read more about supplements for arthritis.

Nonsurgical alternative treatments may provide pain relief for some people.

Possible alternative treatments include:

Other research has investigated alternative therapeutic approaches for people with knee OA, such as mind-body exercises, some types of yoga, and tai chi.


Currently, there is limited reliable evidence on the use of acupuncture in managing knee OA.

A person should discuss with their doctor other conservative treatments that they may use in conjunction with or instead of alternative therapies if these therapies are no longer effective in relieving day-to-day symptoms.

Learn more about other possible exercises for arthritis pain.

Experts first used radiofrequency ablation (RFA) in 1891. The pulse generator of RFA creates an electromagnetic field that generates frictional heat.

It currently has practical use in improving joint function and relieving arthritis pain. It destroys nerve endings or disturbs the transmission of pain signals.

Research suggests that RFA is a reliable and noninvasive method for managing chronic pain related to knee OA.


Because of the limited number of available studies, there is insufficient evidence to support the effectiveness of different types of RFA. This area requires further research.

Keep reading to learn more about electromagnetic field therapies.

Hot and cold therapy target areas of the body in different ways.

Warming methods ease arthritis pain by:

  • increasing blood flow to affected areas, which reduces inflammation
  • relaxing tight muscles
  • eliminating waste products such as lactic acid, which is responsible for stiffness and soreness

Heat therapy can help relax muscles and relieve aches that result from arthritis. Heating pads are one option.

Meanwhile, cold treatment helps by:

  • decreasing blood flow to reduce swelling
  • slowing the transmission of pain signals through nerves
  • inhibiting inflammatory chemicals

Cold therapy targets pain and swelling during a flare of symptoms after exercise or injury.

Find out more about heat and cold treatment for arthritis.

If the above nonsurgical measures do not work for more severe cases of arthritis over a long period, doctors may recommend the following surgical procedures:

  • Arthroscopy: A doctor makes small incisions to diagnose and treat arthritis joint problems.
  • Cartilage grafting: A surgeon takes cartilage from another part of the knee to repair a hole in the articular cartilage.
  • Synovectomy: A doctor removes the damaged joint lining to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Knee osteotomy: A surgeon cuts the tibia (shinbone) or femur (thigh bone) and reshapes it to relieve pressure on the knee joint.
  • Total or partial knee replacement, or arthroplasty: A doctor removes the damaged cartilage and bone and replaces it with a metal or plastic joint.

Learn more about knee replacement surgery.

While there is no cure for arthritis, various nonsurgical treatments are available for knee arthritis.

Doctors may prescribe NSAIDs or joint injections to relieve pain and inflammation, physical therapy to improve mobility, and exercise to help a person maintain a moderate weight.

Research suggests that a combination of nonsurgical measures may be the best course of treatment for a person with knee arthritis.

Surgical procedures are an option only in select cases, when doctors cannot relieve severe symptoms with conservative treatments.