ROCHESTER, Minn. — Staying fit and active can make living with osteoarthritis in the knee less painful and easier to manage. The February issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter covers strategies to minimize the impact of this common source of knee pain in older adults.
Osteoarthritis, also called wear-and-tear arthritis, involves gradual wearing away of the smooth slippery cartilage that lines a joint. The knee pain often is worse after periods of inactivity, such as first thing in the morning. Walking up and down stairs or overuse can also trigger pain.
Conservative measures to minimize knee pain from osteoarthritis include:
Strengthening: Strengthening the muscles around the knee and hip helps support those joints, improving stability. A recent Mayo Clinic-led study found that greater strength in the front thigh (quadriceps) muscles reduced pain and improved function for people with knee arthritis.
Low-impact exercise: Regular aerobic exercise can improve pain and function, build strength and help with weight management. Low-impact options include swimming, cycling or tai chi.
Weight loss: Excess weight puts extra strain on knee joints.
Ice and rest: Icing the knee can relieve a pain flare-up. Total rest for up to a day may be helpful, too, but it’s generally better to keep the knee and body moving in the least aggravating way.
Oral medications: Nonprescription pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) can ease arthritis pain. However, regular or daily use can cause serious side effects for some people.
Topical medications: The prescription gel diclofenac (Voltaren, Solaraze) can provide pain relief. It’s rubbed directly on the skin around the knee. This gel is an anti-inflammatory drug that typically causes fewer side effects than oral anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen.
Knee bracing: Bracing can be effective at reducing pain, providing a feeling of support and, for some people, improving the ability to walk.
Shoe selection: A shoe with a soft, cushioned heel can absorb some of the impact from walking.
Knee pain has many causes. A doctor should be consulted to determine what is causing the pain and develop a treatment plan.