Treatment for arthritis in the knees may help improve a person’s quality of life and relieve any pain the condition causes. A person’s treatment options may vary depending on the type of arthritis they have.

Healthcare professionals use the term “arthritis” to refer to inflammation in the joints. There are more than 100 types of arthritis. While the condition can affect any of a person’s joints, arthritis in the knees is common.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 1 in 4 adults in the United States have arthritis.

There is no cure for knee arthritis. However, doctors aim to treat and manage a person’s knee arthritis symptoms and reduce pain. They also aim to prevent or delay any disability from arthritis.

This article explores the types of arthritis that can affect a person’s knees and the treatment options available. It also discusses when to consult a doctor.

Arthritis resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for arthritis, visit our dedicated hub.

Was this helpful?
there is a close up of some orange pills for arthritisShare on Pinterest
Stefania Pelfini, La Waziya Photography/Getty Images

The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, a person may also experience other types of arthritis in the knees.


OA is the most common form of arthritis. People over 50 years old are more likely to develop OA.

A person develops OA when the cartilage between the bones in their knee joint wears away or experiences damage. People with OA may experience gradually worsening symptoms in one or both knees.

Rheumatoid arthritis

RA is a condition in which a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. A person’s immune system usually protects them from infections and diseases, but in a person with RA, it instead damages the knee cartilage and ligaments and softens the bones. People with RA typically have symptoms in both knees at once.

Learn more about how rheumatoid arthritis affects the knees.

Other types of arthritis in knees

Other types of arthritis that can affect a person’s knees include:

  • Post-traumatic arthritis: This type of arthritis may develop after a person experiences a knee injury.
  • Gout: This is a type of inflammatory arthritis that causes pain and swelling that may flare up for 1–2 weeks at a time.
  • Pseudogout: This can cause inflammation of the knees due to deposits of calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate crystals building up around the joint.
  • Peripheral spondyloarthritis: This category includes multiple types of arthritis that may cause swelling of the lower extremities, including the knees.
  • Lyme arthritis: Chronic Lyme disease may cause swelling in the knees.
  • Septic arthritis: Infection of the knees by bacteria or other microorganisms may cause sudden, intense pain and swelling in the knees.

A person should consult a healthcare professional if they think they may have arthritis in one or both of their knees.

Doctors may treat OA with medication to help reduce inflammation and pain. Some medications may also slow or stop joint damage.

Healthcare professionals typically prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These are pain relievers that stop a person’s body from producing certain enzymes that cause inflammation and pain. Some examples of NSAIDS are:

Doctors can also treat OA pain with corticosteroids, which are strong anti-inflammatory drugs that doctors inject into a person’s knee to temporarily relieve pain. They work by slowing or suppressing the response of a person’s immune system to inflammation.

Healthcare professionals may treat RA with NSAIDS, corticosteroids, or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

DMARDs work by blocking the effects of chemicals released by a person’s immune system as it attacks their joints. This reduces the body’s overactive immune response to RA, thus reducing pain. DMARDs for RA may include:

A healthcare professional may recommend using biological treatments in combination with DMARDs, if these medications are not effective on their own. A doctor injects biological treatments, and they work by stopping certain chemicals in the blood from activating the immune system to attack the joints. Examples include:

Doctors may prescribe other types of pain relief medication, such as acetaminophen, or topical creams or sprays.

Learn more about traditional DMARDs vs. biologics to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Side effects

Most medications have some side effects or may interact with other medications, foods, or supplements. Different people can also respond differently to each medication.

People with some health conditions — including coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and chronic kidney disease — should not take certain arthritis medications.

Doctors may use surgery to treat knee arthritis if medication does not help. Surgical treatments may include:

  • Cartilage restoration: In this procedure, doctors replace damaged knee cartilage with healthy cartilage from elsewhere in a person’s body. They typically perform this surgery only on younger people who have small areas of cartilage damage. Restoring a person’s cartilage may relieve pain and allow better knee function.
  • Synovectomy: This procedure involves removing a person’s damaged joint lining. This may reduce pain and swelling in the knees.
  • Osteotomy: This procedure involves cutting and reshaping the bones of a person’s knee joint. Doctors typically perform this surgery on people with early OA. An osteotomy may relieve pain and improve knee function by shifting weight off the damaged side of a person’s joint.
  • Arthroplasty: This is a surgery to replace a person’s damaged knee joint. It is often highly effective. If a person’s original knee joint has significant damage that stops them from performing everyday activities, a replacement joint may allow them to resume their usual activities.
  • Arthroscopy: In this procedure, doctors use small incisions and thin instruments to diagnose and treat joint problems such as arthritis. They do not typically use it treat arthritis of the knee. However, if a person has both OA and a degenerative meniscal tear, doctors may recommend arthroscopy to treat the torn meniscus, which is a layer of cartilage in the knee.

Learn more about what to expect from arthritis surgery.

Benefits and risks

Like any other surgery, knee procedures come with a risk of complications. People also often need physical therapy to help them regain full use of their knees after surgery.

Other treatments and tools that may help with a person’s knee arthritis by decreasing pain and increasing function include:

These approaches may help reduce stress on a person’s knee joint, increase their knee motion and flexibility, and strengthen their leg muscles.

People should consult a doctor if they experience arthritis symptoms such as the following in or around one or both of their knee joints:

A healthcare professional can work out whether someone has arthritis or another condition.

There are many treatments and therapies for arthritis. Doctors will prescribe the best treatment for a person based on the type of arthritis they have and their personal circumstances.

If one type of treatment does not help a person with arthritis or causes serious side effects, doctors may recommend a different treatment.

Arthritis in the knees is a common condition. Two of the most common types of arthritis that may affect a person’s knees are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Although there is no cure for arthritis, doctors may recommend medication or surgery to help relieve pain and improve a person’s quality of life. They may also recommend other therapies and treatments.

People should speak with a healthcare professional if they think they may have arthritis in the knees or if any treatments for arthritis in the knees are not helping or are causing side effects.