There is no cure for arthritis but there are a number of treatments that may help relieve the pain and disability it can cause.
As with other arthritic conditions, initial treatment of arthritis of the knee is nonsurgical. Your doctor may recommend a range of treatment options.
Lifestyle modifications. Some changes in your daily life can protect your knee joint and slow the progress of arthritis.
Physical therapy. Specific exercises can help increase range of motion and flexibility, as well as help strengthen the muscles in your leg. Your doctor or a physical therapist can help develop an individualized exercise program that meets your needs and lifestyle.
Assistive devices. Using devices such as a cane, wearing shock-absorbing shoes or inserts, or wearing a brace or knee sleeve can be helpful. A brace assists with stability and function, and may be especially helpful if the arthritis is centered on one side of the knee. There are two types of braces that are often used for knee arthritis: An “unloader” brace shifts weight away from the affected portion of the knee, while a “support” brace helps support the entire knee load.
Other remedies. Applying heat or ice, using pain-relieving ointments or creams, or wearing elastic bandages to provide support to the knee may provide some relief from pain.
Medications. Several types of drugs are useful in treating arthritis of the knee. Because people respond differently to medications, your doctor will work closely with you to determine the medications and dosages that are safe and effective for you.
Alternative therapies. Many alternative forms of therapy are unproven, but may be helpful to try, provided you find a qualified practitioner and keep your doctor informed of your decision. Alternative therapies to treat pain include the use of acupuncture and magnetic pulse therapy.
Acupuncture uses fine needles to stimulate specific body areas to relieve pain or temporarily numb an area. Although it is used in many parts of the world and evidence suggests that it can help ease the pain of arthritis, there are few scientific studies of its effectiveness. Be sure your acupuncturist is certified, and do not hesitate to ask about his or her sterilization practices.
Magnetic pulse therapy is painless and works by applying a pulsed signal to the knee, which is placed in an electromagnetic field. Like many alternative therapies, magnetic pulse therapy has yet to be proven.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if your pain from arthritis causes disability and is not relieved with nonsurgical treatment. As with all surgeries, there are some risks and possible complications with different knee procedures. Your doctor will discuss the possible complications with you before your operation.
Arthroscopy. During arthroscopy, doctors use small incisions and thin instruments to diagnose and treat joint problems.
Arthroscopic surgery is not often used to treat arthritis of the knee. In cases where osteoarthritis is accompanied by a degenerative meniscal tear, arthroscopic surgery may be recommended to treat the torn meniscus.
Cartilage grafting. Normal, healthy cartilage tissue may be taken from another part of the knee or from a tissue bank to fill a hole in the articular cartilage. This procedure is typically considered only for younger patients who have small areas of cartilage damage.
Synovectomy. The joint lining damaged by rheumatoid arthritis is removed to reduce pain and swelling.
Osteotomy. In a knee osteotomy, either the tibia (shinbone) or femur (thighbone) is cut and then reshaped to relieve pressure on the knee joint. Knee osteotomy is used when you have early-stage osteoarthritis that has damaged just one side of the knee joint. By shifting your weight off the damaged side of the joint, an osteotomy can relieve pain and significantly improve function in your arthritic knee.
Total or partial knee replacement (arthroplasty). Your doctor will remove the damaged cartilage and bone, and then position new metal or plastic joint surfaces to restore the function of your knee.
After any type of surgery for arthritis of the knee, there is a period of recovery. Recovery time and rehabilitation depends on the type of surgery performed.
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help you regain strength in your knee and to restore range of motion. Depending upon your procedure, you may need to wear a knee brace, or use crutches or a cane for a time.
In most cases, surgery relieves pain and makes it possible to perform daily activities more easily.