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Knee Arthritis Treatment Overview

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Care Plan


First steps to consider

  • Most mild to moderate knee arthritis can be treated at home.
  • Treat with rest, ice, ibuprofen (Advil), and natural remedies.
See home treatments

When you may need a provider

  • Severe pain or swelling
  • Symptoms are not improving after 4–6 weeks of home treatments
See care providers

Emergency Care

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Call 911 or go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Redness or warmth of the knee

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All treatments for knee arthritis
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Read more about knee arthritis care options

When to see a healthcare provider

You should see a healthcare provider if your knee arthritis symptoms, like pain, swelling, and stiffness, haven’t improved after 2–6 weeks of at-home care or the pain and swelling are severe.

Knee arthritis should be treated because the pain can get worse over time. The knee may also become derformed or buckle (give out) without warning.

Getting diagnosed for knee arthritis

Your doctor can diagnose knee arthritis from an exam and your symptoms. They will check to see how well you can move your knee, whether there are signs you injured your knee, your ability to walk, and if the knee joint is unstable.

Key symptoms include pain that gets worse with activity and gets better with rest, and morning stiffness that goes away within 30 minutes. They may order X-rays to check for signs of knee arthritis, such as cysts and narrowing of the joint space.

What to expect from your visit

A doctor will discuss your current treatments. They may recommend taking OTC pain relievers, wearing a knee brace, and making lifestyle changes that include low-impact exercise or weight loss. If these don’t relieve your pain, they may prescribe stronger pain relievers or cortisone injections.

You may be referred to a physical therapist, who can develop a treatment plan to reduce your pain, prevent the knee from getting stiff, and strengthen the muscles that support your knee.

If you still have symptoms after trying these treatments, the pain is affecting your quality of life, or tests show your knee joint is beginning to deteriorate, you may need knee replacement surgery.

Prescription knee arthritis medications

  • Cortisone injections
  • Prescription-strength NSAIDs
  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)
  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta)

Types of knee arthritis providers

  • A primary care provider can usually treat knee arthritis.
  • An orthopedist is a specialist in musculoskeletal conditions like arthritis. If your knee arthritis is so severe that surgery is necessary, you’ll see an orthopedic surgeon.
  • A sports medicine physician has training in conditions that athletes and anyone active in sports often get.
  • A physical therapist is trained in body mechanics, rehabilitation, and hands-on therapies.
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