Skip to content

Osteoarthritis Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Knee Osteoarthritis: When to Consider Surgery

Knee osteoarthritis (OA) can affect your every move: walking, climbing stairs, even sitting or lying down. Surgery can help bring relief, but doctors almost always advise trying other treatment options first. These include:

Medications you take by mouth. Over-the-counter options include Tylenol (acetaminophen) as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen sodium). Stronger NSAIDs are available by prescription.

Recommended Related to Osteoarthritis

Walking to Ease Knee Pain

It's a catch-22 when you have knee pain from osteoarthritis. It hurts, so you don't want to move. But if you exercise, it can eventually make your knees feel better. "I've gone a period of time when I haven’t moved a joint much and, when I first start, it's a little bit sore," says Denver physical therapist Eric Robertson, who has osteoarthritis. Robertson knows what it's like to be achy when he first starts moving. Your knee may hurt and ache, but it shouldn't keep you from doing your usual activities,...

Read the Walking to Ease Knee Pain article > >

Creams or ointments you rub onto the skin. Different forms are sold over-the-counter. Stronger versions are available with a prescription.

Medications injected into the joint. Corticosteroid injections fight inflammation and can offer fast pain relief that may last up to several months. Injections of hyaluronic acid boost the natural joint fluid that keeps knees moving smoothly.

Exercise and physical therapy. Exercise strengthens the muscles that support your knee. Physical therapy also helps. A physical therapist can design the program for you and see if you need supportive braces, splints, or canes. If you're overweight, exercise can help you lose weight and take some of the pressure off your knees.

Weight loss. Every pound you gain puts an extra 3 pounds of pressure on your knees. If you eventually need knee replacement surgery, your chances of success are much greater if you first lose extra weight.

Nutritional supplements. Some people take glucosamine and chondroitin for OA. Studies on how well they work have had mixed results. Another substance, called SAMe, has been shown to work as well as non-prescription pain relievers and may have fewer side effects. It works more slowly, though. Before you start taking any supplements, even if they're natural, tell your doctor so they can check on side effects.

These treatment options may provide enough relief to keep you moving comfortably. If they don't relieve your pain well enough, they become less effective, or you can't tolerate them, your doctor may suggest surgery. The two types of surgery most often recommended for knee OA are arthroscopic surgery and knee replacement surgery.

Today on WebMD

elderly hands
Even with arthritis pain.
woman exercising
Here are 7 easy tips.
 
acupuncture needles in woman's back
How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.
chronic pain
Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.
 
Keep Joints Healthy
SLIDESHOW
Chronic Pain Healthcheck
HEALTH CHECK
 
close up of man with gut
Article
man knee support
Article
 
woman with cold compress
QUIZ
Man doing tai chi
Article
 
hand gripping green rubber ball
Slideshow
person walking with assistance
Slideshow
 

WebMD Special Sections