Nagging knee pain has become an unwelcome part of your life.

You’ve tried all the usual home treatments – gels, creams, heat and ice, over-the-counter pain relief medications, and the list goes on. But you’re still turning down invitations for a friendly tennis match or a game of pickup basketball, or avoiding hobbies like gardening. You want to say goodbye to stubborn knee pain, but you’re just not ready for a knee replacement.

You’re not alone. One of the most common questions people ask is, “What are all my nonsurgical treatment options for knee pain?”

Knee surgery can be extremely effective when it’s done at the right time and for the right reasons. But there are several alternatives to knee replacement surgery that can successfully relieve pain and restore mobility – delaying your need for surgery or possibly taking it off the table all together.

How to avoid a knee replacement: Nonsurgical treatment for bone-on-bone knee pain

You may be surprised to learn that surgery isn’t always the best option. Often, nonsurgical options are very effective at treating knee pain from arthritis, injury or another condition. Here are some options to try.

1. Low-impact exercises for knee pain

When your knees hurt and feel stiff, exercise is usually the last thing on your mind. But among the many benefits of exercise, moving more can actually help manage your joint pain in many ways, including:

  • Building muscle strength to help support your knees
  • Improving your knee flexibility and reducing stiffness
  • Stimulating the flow of fluid around your knee to reduce buildup

While almost any exercise will help, low-impact exercises that focus on strengthening your legs, hips and core are recommended, such as:

  • Swimming
  • Strength training
  • Cycling
  • Yoga
  • Walking

How often do you need to exercise? For starters, just get moving. Eventually, you’ll be able to work your way up to exercising 3-5 times a week. The key is finding and sticking with a regular exercise routine.

Keep in mind that just because it hurts, it doesn’t mean it’s harming you. Feeling some discomfort while you adjust to your workout is normal. However, if you feel intense pain, you should stop doing that particular exercise.

It usually takes about 4-6 weeks to improve your fitness level and strengthen your knees, so don’t give up. Consistency can help with long-lasting pain relief.

2. Losing weight to reduce pressure on your knees

Will losing weight help knee pain? Absolutely. Our knees support us whenever we walk, sit or stand. They take a lot of wear and tear throughout our lives. If you’re overweight, losing weight can help make things easier for your knees.

Even losing 10% of your body weight can help alleviate knee pain. One pound lost can eliminate four pounds of pressure on your knees.

Excess weight can also add to inflammation throughout your body, which can make the inflammation in your knee more painful. Losing weight may help reduce that inflammation.

If you have struggled with weight loss in the past, help is available. Dietitians, nutritionists and other specialty doctors can provide medical weight management and guidance to help you reach your goals.

3. Physical therapy for knee pain

Knee pain can affect your strength, balance and mobility. If knee pain has stopped you from doing something you enjoy, physical therapy may be able to help you get back to it.

Physical therapy, sometimes called rehabilitation, is a type of treatment that combines exercise, education and hands-on care to strengthen and loosen muscles and joints.

During physical therapy, a physical therapist will guide you through a treatment plan that fits your specific needs. You’ll work together to come up with a treatment goal, such as improving your knee mobility, reducing swelling or improving your balance.

Treatment plans often include guided exercise with a physical therapist a few times a week, a personalized exercise plan to do at home and hands-on care like massage.

A physical therapist will also teach you about the causes of your knee pain and show you how to perform regular activities to avoid further injury and get relief from bone-on-bone knee pain without surgery.

You’ll likely finish your physical therapy plan in about three months. However, for lasting results, you should continue physical therapy exercises at home. By strengthening your knees and learning how to move, physical therapy can provide long-term pain management.

4. A knee brace instead of knee replacement

When you stand or walk, the pressure on your knee joint can cause knee pain.

Knee braces can help align your joint and limit knee motion, allowing your knee to rest and heal. Your physical therapist can work with you to make sure that you get the best fit from an off-the-shelf or custom knee brace.

5. Joint supplements for knee pain

Some people with knee pain take nutritional supplements called glucosamine and chondroitin. These are substances found in cartilage, and they help to maintain cartilage structure and slow cartilage deterioration in joints.

Supplements in higher doses have been shown to reduce pain for about 60% of the people who take them. While this isn’t significantly high, for some it is worth a try as an alternative to surgery. Because they are used by your body to make cartilage, it may take up to six weeks to notice a difference.

What are the best joint supplements for knee pain? Talk to your doctor to find out if supplements might be a good option for you. And don’t forget to read labels carefully: many of these supplements are made from shellfish, but there are some vegan versions as well.

6. Injections for knee pain

Injections are another common method used to quickly reduce inflammation and knee pain from osteoarthritis or another condition. There are several types of knee injections, and your doctor can help to determine the best type for you.

Steroid injections can help knee pain by reducing inflammation

Steroid injections for knee pain are typically corticosteroid (sometimes called cortisone) shots. Cortisone mimics the effects of a substance called cortisol that is naturally produced by the adrenal glands.

Steroids help reduce the inflammation and offer pain relief, because knee pain is often caused by inflamed tissue. It usually takes 3-7 days for steroid injections to work to their full effect, but it’s possible for a steroid injection to relieve knee pain as quickly as 24 hours.

Though they offer significant pain relief, the effects of steroid injections are temporary. On average, steroid shots relieve pain for three months, though you may feel relief for up to six.

Steroid injections may also cause side effects. It’s common to experience minor pain and swelling in the knees for a couple days after the shot. Your doctor will be able to answer any questions you have about side effects.

Hyaluronic acid injections may help reduce knee pain and replace cartilage

Your body makes hyaluronic acid naturally: it’s a fluid that helps lubricate your joints in order to protect them from wear and tear. Think of it as a shock absorber for your knees.

Injecting more hyaluronic acid into your knees can help boost your body’s natural supply. And more hyaluronic acid may help better protect your knees and reduce knee pain.

It’s also possible that hyaluronic acid knee injections may help your body regenerate knee cartilage naturally, without surgery.

Though these injections can offer significant pain relief, they may require several injections over a few weeks before you feel any improvements in your symptoms.

7. Orthobiologic injections to improve healing

Orthobiologics, which some refer to as regenerative medicine, is an emerging field, and TRIA is at the forefront. Orthobiologic injection treatments are minimally invasive treatment options that use natural, tissue-derived products to help restore function and help the body heal more quickly.

Orthobiologics are usually used alongside other knee pain treatments like physical therapy. And depending on your type of pain, medical history and personal preferences, your doctor can recommend which orthobiologic approach is best for you. Some options include:

  • Platelet rich plasma (PRP)
  • Bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC)
  • Placental tissue matrix therapy (PTMT)

Are any of these nonsurgical knee treatment options right for you? Talk with a doctor.

You might be tempted to grit your teeth and continue to tough out your knee pain. But before you resign yourself to missing out on your favorite sport, jogs around the neighborhood or dancing at your grandkid’s wedding, ask an orthopedist how they can help.

At TRIA, nonsurgical treatments are always the starting point. We’ll work with you to create a tailored treatment plan to help reduce and heal knee pain from osteoarthritis, injury or another condition. If or when the time comes to consider knee replacement surgery, we’ll talk you through the process and answer any questions you may have.