Degeneration of the cartilage in the knee leading to osteoarthritis, inflammation of the knee joint causing rheumatoid arthritis and infections lead to a chronically painful, swollen and stiff knee that can limit one’s ability to move, bend, turn and carry out day-to-day activities.
Gaining a thorough knowledge of the currently available treatments, can help you opt for the best course of treatment, to help relieve your joint pain during its early stage and get you back into the swing of things.
Some of the treatments currently used for alleviating knee joint pains have been listed below.
A. Treatments For Knee Joint Pain
A.1. Pain Relief Medications
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Agents (NSAIDs)
Over-the-counter pain killers or NSAIDs like aspirin, diclofenac, ibuprofen are the most commonly prescribed drugs that can be taken on a long-term basis to reduce pain and swelling in the knees.
These drugs work by slowing down the progression of the disease by inactivating cyclooxygenase (COX-1 and COX-2) enzymes, required for the synthesis of prostaglandins that primarily act as mediators of inflammation in the body.
However, COX-1 inhibitors like ibuprofen and naproxen also target certain proteins lining the stomach leading to side-effects like ulcers, indigestion, burning sensation or serious stomach problems.
Hence, patients allergic to these medicines can take COX-2 inhibitors like celebrex that are only present at the site of inflammation and selectively target prostaglandins responsible for inflammation and knee joint pains, without causing many adverse effects.
Corticosteroids like cortisone (cortone), hydrocortison (cortef) dexamethasone (decadron) etc., are powerful drugs related to cortisol, a hormone released by adrenal cortex to help the body cope with stress related to infections, injuries, inflammation, etc.
Similar to NSAID’s, they act by blocking the production of substances like prostaglandins that can trigger an inflammatory response in the joints.
At one point, steroids were considered as a ‘cure’ for arthritis because of the striking and dramatic improvements seen in arthritic patients.
However, as its use expanded, its side effects emerged in the form of increased susceptibility to infection that resulted from the ability of corticosteroids to impede the functioning of white blood cells that destroy foreign bodies.
Hence, patients have been warned against using high doses, over prolonged periods of time, thus making the use of corticosteroids, more conservative.
A.3. Biologic Treatments for Arthritic Pain
Biologics are a new class of genetically engineered drugs (FDA approved), that mimics the effects of proteins naturally made by our body’s immune system that specifically target and inhibit enzymes responsible for the stimulation of arthritic inflammation.
These drugs are engineered by inserting human genes that normally interfere with biologic substances like interleukins and tissue necrosis factor (TNF) that cause or worsen inflammation, into non-human cell cultures, leading to the production of large amounts of a biologic drug.
Hence, biologics have revolutionized the treatment for arthritic pain by significantly reducing the adverse effects associated with NSAID’s.
B. Physical Therapy
Even though the stiffness and pain experienced while moving the joints, restricts movement in the knee, arthritic patients must follow a slow, controlled physical movement to improve blood circulation in the joints that can in turn prevent the buildup of toxins responsible for arthritic pain and inflammation.
Simple asanas involving slow, steady and controlled movements like basic movement, tadagasana, pavanamuktasana (1 leg & 2 legs), makarasana, etc. have been recommended to improve circulation in the joints to treat knee pain.
However, asanas must not be maintained for a long time to prevent the muscles in the joints from getting excessively strained.
Also, basic pranayama involving deep breathing with inhalation via right nostril and exhalation via both nostrils, creating a honey bee sound (Hmm…) have been found to be very effective in treating arthritis.
B.2. Massage and Heat Treatment
Application of moderate heat using hot water bags or heat pads can help to improve blood circulation in the knees.
Heat, when accompanied by a light massage using essential oils containing extracts of cinnamon, cherry, chamomile, pomegranate and black seed can produce a soothing effect by make joint movements easier, enabling the patients to move around more comfortably.
Steam bath and a sun bath for about 10-15 minutes have been shown to produce a similar effect. A massage, followed by asanas has been found to be far more effective in treating arthritic pain than a massage or asanas done alone.
C. Stretching and Muscle Strengthening Exercises
Stretching like hamstring stretches and a range of movement or motion joint pain exercises can keep your knees limber and flexible.
Also, strengthening exercises build muscle strength in order to stabilize weak joints, thereby reducing the knee pain associated with arthritis.
Walking for about 30 minutes a day using a cane or an assertive device has also been recommended for arthritic patients to prevent stiffness in the knees that can increase the pain.
D. Knee Bracing
Found to be most beneficial for mobile patients, a knee brace or knee support worn around the knee, works by relieving pressure off the part of the knee joint, helps in the proper alignment of the knee, thus, providing enough stability needed to perform daily activities.
E. Total Knee Replacement
The commencement of an “Artificial Knee Joint Operation” has led to corrections of knee deformities in patients with severe arthritic conditions, whose knee joint pain could not be relieved using the conventional treatments of arthritis.
New advancements made in artificial joint technology involving replacement of a damaged or arthritic knee with a plastic or a metal device has enabled 90-95% of patients (both youngsters and old-aged) to move around normally and lead a pain-free life.
However, the artificial joints can become loose and unstable, needing a revival surgery and hence, these surgeries are only reserved for patients whose stiffness and knee pain could not be relieved using other methods, when X-rays show irreparable damage to the knees and when these functional limitations restrict their day-to-day activities.
Hence, the key to gaining the best outcome is to make the right decision in opting for one of the above-mentioned treatments, by getting a thorough evaluation done by your doctor that can help you get rid of arthritic knee pain.