Non-Drug Treatments for Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis

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Non-drug treatments for osteoarthritis have gained popularity. If you'd rather not take prescription drugs to manage your osteoarthritis because of possible side effects, medication interactions and expense, explore these options.

There are 16 non-drug treatments for hip and knee osteoarthritis, according to American College of Rheumatology (ACR) guidelines. Consider each one carefully, learn about each of the treatments, and consult your doctor.

Patient Education

The importance of learning all that you can about osteoarthritis cannot be emphasized enough. You need to understand your disease to be able to follow what your doctor tells you, to know what questions you should ask, and to recognize significant changes in the disease course. Family members, close friends, and caregivers should also be educated about your condition along with you.

Self-Management Programs

Management of your osteoarthritis doesn't just lie in the hands of your doctor. In fact, there are self-management programs specifically designed to help you manage your condition.

Self-management programs focus on giving you the skills and techniques you need to better manage arthritis. Elements may include, pain management, relaxation techniques, stress management, and regular exercise; self-management can be taught through one-on-one instruction, reading materials, or classes. The direction is designed to help you help yourself.

Personalized Social Support Through Telephone Contact

Another cost-effective non-drug approach for patients with osteoarthritis is direct social support or support by periodic telephone contact. "Studies of the results of monthly telephone calls by trained nonmedical personnel to discuss such issues as joint pain, medications and treatment compliance, drug toxicities, date of next scheduled visit, and barriers to keeping clinic appointments showed moderate-to-large degrees of improvement in pain and functional status without a significant increase in costs," according to the ACR.

Weight Loss If Overweight

Overweight people are at high risk for developing osteoarthritis, especially knee osteoarthritis. Studies have consistently shown that overweight women have 4 times the risk and overweight men have 5 times the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis when compared to people who are normal body weight.

Some studies show that overweight people also have a higher risk of developing hip osteoarthritis, though the correlation is not as strong as it is with knee osteoarthritis. Clearly, bringing your weight under control is important. Researchers point to a strong rationale that weight reduction in overweight knee osteoarthritis patients may delay progression of the disease, reduce symptoms, improve function, and lower the impact of comorbidities (concurrent diseases).

Aerobic Exercise Programs

Aerobic exercise works your large muscles in continuous but rhythmical motion. Swimming, walking, and bicycling are examples of aerobic exercise. While performing aerobic exercise, blood pumps through the heart more quickly and with more force. Aerobic exercise, which is essential for good overall health, helps your heart, lungs, and muscles work more efficiently.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, "By making aerobic exercise a regular part of your routine, you may improve endurance and sleep, reduce the effects of stress, strengthen bones and control weight."

Physical Therapy

Many patients find physical therapy an essential part of arthritis treatment. Physical therapy can help patients cope with pain and disability caused by arthritis. Because there is no cure for arthritis, the treatment focuses on disease management.

A patient's doctor and physical therapist work together to define goals for physical therapy. The patient's input is necessary, too.

Range-of-Motion Exercises

Range-of-motion exercises are gentle stretching exercises which move each joint as far as possible in all directions. These exercises need to be done daily to help keep joints fully mobile and prevent stiffness and deformities. ROM (range-of-motion) exercises are especially important for arthritis patients, who because of intense inflammatory pain tend not to want to move painful joints. It is the notion of some people that normal daily activities take joints through their full range-of-motion but this is not the case.

Muscle-Strengthening Exercises

While aerobic exercise has many excellent health benefits such as maintaining the heart and lungs and increasing cardiovascular fitness, it does not make your muscles strong—strength training does.

Strengthening exercises can help keep or increase muscle strength. Strong muscles help support and protect joints affected by arthritis.

Assistive Devices for Ambulation

Assistive devices are available which can help ease the difficulties caused by arthritis. Assistive devices can range from simple tools or gadgets to motorized equipment. Assistive devices can help those with physical challenges overcome many limitations imposed by their condition including walking. Canes and walkers are popular assistive devices.

Patellar Taping

Knee taping is the application and positioning of tape to align the knee in a more stable position. The improved alignment can reduce stress and strain on the soft tissues that surround the knee and improve osteoarthritis symptoms. Precise position of the tape is important to unloading or removing the burden from specific components of the knee.

Appropriate Footwear

When shopping for shoes, it's not all about style especially if you have osteoarthritis. Your choice of footwear can affect the load or stress put on your knee joint and consequently impact knee osteoarthritis.

Lateral-Wedged Insoles

A lateral-wedge insole is worn inside the shoe. It is thinner at the instep and thicker at the outer edge of the foot. The angle of the lateral-wedge insole can be customized for individual patients.

Lateral-wedge insoles alter knee biomechanics during walking by reducing what is known as varus torque (twisting of the knee inward). Increased load across the knee joint is associated with the development of knee osteoarthritis.


Knee braces are another way to provide stability, support, and pain relief for patients with knee osteoarthritis. You should consider trying a knee brace to see if there is a noticeable benefit. The knee brace would be a complementary treatment, to go along with any other treatments being used. Knee braces should not replace other treatment options.

Occupational Therapy

Most osteoarthritis patients would like to be active, but too often something gets in the way whether it's pain, fatigue, or actual barriers in people's homes or communities. Occupational therapy can break down those barriers and promote wellness in people with hip and knee osteoarthritis.

Joint Protection and Energy Conservation

Joint protection can reduce stress on arthritic joints and decrease pain. Several joint protection principles, which if followed, will help conserve energy and preserve joint function. The advice is simple, but you must be mindful of proper movements and recognize body signals.

Assistive Devices for Activities of Daily Living

Limitations caused by osteoarthritis can affect daily living activities. It's one of the most troublesome aspects of living with osteoarthritis. Numerous assistive devices help compensate for specific limitations.

Points to Remember

The non-drug treatments for osteoarthritis focus on teaching you about the disease, strengthening your body, managing symptoms, protecting your joints, and getting beyond your limitations. The non-drug treatments can work well in combination. Ask your doctor what is appropriate for you.

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  • American College of Rheumatology, Osteoarthritis Guidelines Non-pharmacological - Knee and Hip September, 2009.
  • American College of Rheumatology, Recommendations for the Medical Management of Osteoarthritis of the Hip and Knee. Arthritis and Rheumatism. September 2000.
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