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Can My Knee Pain Be Treated Without Surgery?

Chronic pain from a knee injury can limit your mobility and keep you from enjoying the things you once loved doing.

However, you may feel you’re too young for a knee replacement. Or a surgery could cost too much.

Can knee pain be treated without resorting to surgical intervention?  

Fortunately, many non-surgical treatments can help reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Used individually or in combination, these treatments can reduce pain, increase mobility, and improve quality of life.

Lifestyle Modification

The first alternative to knee surgery most physicians try is lifestyle modification. This may include weight loss; avoiding activities such as running and twisting, which can aggravate the knee injury; modifying exercise to no- and low-impact; and other changes in your daily routine to reduce stress on your knee.

Exercise and Physical Therapy

Exercise and physical therapy may be prescribed to improve strength and flexibility. Exercises may include strengthening exercises such as riding a stationary bike; and stretching exercises such as flexing the ankle up and down, tightening and holding thigh muscles, sliding the heel forward on the floor, leg lifts, and knee extensions.

Exercise can strengthen your leg muscles and reduce your pain. If you really need knee surgery, this may not help, but many forms of knee pain can be mitigated by exercise.

Anti-Inflammatory Medications

Arthritis pain is caused by inflammation in the knee as the bones rub against each other due to eroded cartilage. Reducing the inflammation of the tissue in the knee can provide temporary relief from pain and delay knee surgery.

Anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to decrease swelling in the joint. New medications called Cox-2 inhibitors may also be used to reduce inflammation, reducing pain temporarily. A corticosteroid injection may also be used to reduce pain; in this procedure a powerful anti-inflammatory agent is injected directly into the joint.

Glucosamine/Chondroitin

A dietary supplement called glucosamine/chondroitin may improve the joint’s mobility and decrease pain from arthritis of the knee. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate can slow the deterioration of cartilage in the joint, reducing the pain of bone on bone. Both are naturally occurring molecules in the body. Glucosamine is thought to promote the growth of new cartilage and repair of damaged cartilage, while chondroitin is believed to promote water retention, improving the elasticity of cartilage, and also to inhibit cartilage-destroying enzymes.

Minimally-invasive treatments for knee pain

Minimally invasive therapies often involve injections of some sort, introducing liquids or gels with healing properties into or around the joint to reduce inflammation, provide lubrication, ease pain, and boost healing.

Corticosteroid injections

Corticosteroids can reduce inflammation quickly, alleviating pain from swelling that causes pressure on a nerve or surrounding tissues

Hyaluronic acid injections

Your body makes hyaluronic acid (HA) naturally, but sometimes production needs a little boost. HA injections give your joint the lubrication it needs to move more freely.

PRP and stem cell injections

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections are created using your own blood centrifuged to concentrate platelets in the plasma while getting rid of white and red blood cells. 

The concentrated PRP is injected into your joint to attract growth factors to the area and speed healing. Stem cells perform a similar task, boosting the regenerative power of your system and relieving pain in the process.

Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) 

RFA of the nerves that supply the knee joint is another way to treat the pain from the knee after failing other conservative measures listed above including for people that have had total knee replacement and still suffering from knee pain. 

If your knee is badly damaged, you may need surgery to repair torn ligaments or tendons, or to reposition a shifted kneecap. However, for many instances of knee pain, one or more of these more conservative treatments will set you on the road to recovery without the need for surgical intervention.

Assistive Devices

Using an assistive device such as a cane or a walker can help with a flare in knee pain. These can shift the body’s center of gravity away from the affected side and reduce the strain on the joint. Assistive devices can also help reduce the risk of falls if the knee gives out due to pain.

Braces

Sometimes a knee brace can help the knee feel more stable. One particular type of knee brace, called an “unloader” is designed for knee osteoarthritis that affects one side of the knee more than the other and can shift some of the force away from the painful side of the knee and toward the less-affected side. The effectiveness of these braces depends on the type of arthritis in the knee and how well it fits the leg.

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