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Ask Dr. K: Remedies relieve knee pain without surgery

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have osteoarthritis of the knee. Are there ways to relieve my knee pain without drugs or surgery?

DEAR READER: Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints. If you were to take an X-ray of every bone in the bodies of people over 50, probably most of us would have some degree of osteoarthritis in some joints.

However, it wouldn’t necessarily hurt. Osteoarthritis surely can cause symptoms. I know; my right hip was badly damaged by osteoarthritis and caused me a lot of pain. Finally, I needed a hip replacement. I’ve been pain-free ever since.

But surgery is a last resort, of course, and you asked about non-surgical options. The standard treatment for osteoarthritis usually consists of anti-inflammatory and pain medications, along with weight loss and physical therapy. Eventually, if the arthritis progresses, you may need surgery.

But if you’re still in the early stages of osteoarthritis, a variety of remedies may offer some pain relief without drugs or surgery:

— Weight loss. The more weight you carry, the more likely you are to have knee pain. Weight loss significantly reduces the load on your knees and slows the progression of knee osteoarthritis. If you’re overweight, make weight loss a priority. I was only a little overweight, but losing just seven pounds made a world of difference to my hip.

— Physical therapy exercises. Strengthening the muscles around your knee can help lessen your pain. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to strengthen and stretch your knee, support the joint and reduce stress on it. (I’ve put an illustration showing two knee-strengthening exercises on my website,

— Tai chi. This exercise regimen consists of a series of postures that are performed in a set, flowing sequence. Tai chi improves muscle strength and coordination, which leads to better joint stability. In addition, tai chi promotes mental calmness, which may help to break the cycle of arthritis pain. Millions of people in Asia practice it every day, many because it helps relieve pain from their osteoarthritis.

— Glucosamine and chondroitin. A few years back, these supplements were all the rage to relieve arthritis pain. Time and research, however, have produced minimal or mixed findings. I used them for my hip, but I was never convinced they helped. Some of my patients, however, have obtained relief with them. My guess is that some people really do get relief, whereas others do not.

— Acupuncture. This traditional Chinese practice involves the insertion of extremely fine needles into the skin at specific points. Over the past 40 years, studies have shown that acupuncture clearly does relieve pain in many people.

— Assistive devices can help reduce the stress on your joints. A cane is one example. And shock-absorbing insoles, made of a gel-like material, may help cushion the joints to reduce knee symptoms.

Several of these remedies worked for me for many years, and I’ll bet some will work for you as well.

(Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.)

Dr. Anthony L. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.


rstover6 5 years ago

I read your column in the local paper this a.m. and have a question. I too have osteoarthritis of 50% or more in my left hip, as shown on x-rays July of 2012. I recently finished physical tx. for this, and will see my orthopedic surgeon later this month, still have quite a bit of pain In the hip, going down my leg, not continuous, but at times so severe I feel I may loose my balance and fall, also, I have a distinctive limp on that side. I am 68 years old, female, and am afraid to wait for hip replacement , because I feel I would recover much faster having the replacement sooner than waiting more years. Other than a cholesterol problem, not severe, weight good, could stand to loose ten lbs. , I have no other health issues. Do you think that I should push for this, wait,or what? I do not want shots in the hip, as this is only delaying the inevitable, It will not fix the problem. Will go by my doctors advice, just want your professional opinion. Thank you,


jmcdowell 5 years ago

Rstover6, Dr. Kay is a national columnist whose column is published all over the country. He won't see your message here. To contact him, you will see at the bottom of the column it says "To send questions, go to, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115."



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