Knee Pain Treatment at Home
Reviewed By - Sean Byers, MD

Published: Last Updated: Category: Knee Pain

Knee pain has several various causes, and understanding what knee pain is will be the first step in aiming to resolve it. As the Mayo Clinic observes, knee pain may result from an injury, such as a ruptured ligament or torn cartilage. 

Medical conditions like knee arthritis, gout, and infections can also cause knee pain. Health Report Live has the information you need for this type of condition. 

Understanding What Knee Pain Is

While some types of knee pain are relatively minor and only require in-home treatment to resolve, other types of pain can indicate more severe damage. 

In some cases, surgical intervention will be needed to resolve the issue and bring you back on the road to recovery. In other cases, though, knee pain treatment at home will be enough to get you back to normal.

Take Note of the Symptoms

The source of knee pain for each person may be difficult to diagnose. Because so many different conditions present with the same symptoms, it’s essential for anyone experiencing knee pain to be able to report those symptoms to a doctor. 

The doctor can then do tests, including bloodwork, X-rays, and MRIs, to help ascertain the cause. Also, if you are beginning knee pain treatment at home, it is helpful to let your doctor know right away.

Knee Pain Potential Causes

In some cases, knee pain results from osteoarthritis, essentially a combination of age and use. Other types of arthritis may affect the knee, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). 

RA is a chronic autoimmune condition that can cause issues as it flares up. Meanwhile, gout is caused by too much uric acid in the blood, and it can cause knee pain as well.

Sometimes, though, knee pain is caused by a structural injury, such as a ligament tear or a meniscus tear. While some meniscus injuries can be treated without surgery, ligament injuries simply won’t respond to knee pain treatment at home. Those require surgery plus physical therapy to get people back on the road to recovery.

However, other culprits, like patellofemoral pain syndrome and patellar tendonitis, known as runner’s knee and jumper’s knee, respectively, can respond to rest, ice packs or cold compress, and other at-home treatments. 

The patella (kneecap) is the bone that covers the knee.

Problems like bursitis or a Baker’s cyst may need initial medical intervention before you can proceed on the road to recovery.

Potential Home Treatments for Knee Pain

If you are looking to relieve knee pain treatment at home, know that you have a number of different options to explore. Some are better suited for certain ailments than others, so it is best to get the source of knee pain diagnosed before you seek to treat it. 

However, some of the treatments mentioned here may give you some relief even before you know what is causing your knee pain.

Try RICE For Strains and Sprains

The RICE acronym provides a good baseline for knee pain treatment at home. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. It is a straightforward self-care technique that helps reduce swelling, ease pain, and speed up healing.

The first step is rest, which should be self-explanatory. Pain is your body’s signal that something is wrong. As soon as you’re hurt, stop daily activities and rest as much as possible for the first two days. 

Some injuries can be made worse by trying to be active too soon after experiencing the initial injury.

Ice can be valuable in constricting blood vessels and reducing pain and swelling. A regimen of 15-20 minutes every two to three hours in the first couple of days after an injury. 

It can be used beyond the initial period of an injury, of course, though the 20-minute rule is important to follow, as ice can lose its benefits if applied to an injured knee for too long.

Compression helps with swelling, and whatever you are using – an ACE bandage works especially well — make sure it is snug yet not too tight to interfere with blood flow.

Elevation means that you aim to raise the injured body part above your heart, which often requires you to lie down. (Which is, of course, where rest comes in.) Doing so can positively impact the pain and swelling you may be experiencing from an injury.

Tai Chi

According to the Arthritis Foundation, Tai chi is a form of martial arts that involves meditative, fluid motions done in unison with other practitioners. It has some commonalities with physical therapy and is a great way to do low-impact exercise.

Exercise or Physical Activity

Despite advice to rest immediately following a knee injury, exercise and physical activity can be an essential part of knee pain treatment at home. 

Low-impact exercises such as swimming or bike riding can be beneficial to returning range of motion and strengthening muscle groups around the knee joint without the jarring effects of a higher-impact exercise like running.

Posture and Support

Posture and support are essential in encouraging knee health and warding further injury. Having comfortable and flexible shoes can be better for overall posture and support than thick-soled shoes that may present themselves as offering superior support. 

Keeping a strong, straight posture can encourage the body mechanics that allow the knee to move well.

Relaxing Massage

Massage therapy can be a helpful and effective way to address knee pain. In some cases, people will knee pain will hold the muscles around their knee tighter to support it better. That can, however, cause additional tension and discomfort inadvertently. 

Massage helps give those muscle groups needed relief. It will be most helpful if you can see a professional, licensed massage therapist. You can let that person know, going into your session, the nature and severity of your knee pain.

Medications

A number of OTC (over-the-counter) medications can help you with knee pain treatment at home. Acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, is a widely-available analgesic that can help with knee pain. 

You also may consider both oral and topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs) to treat your pain. Those drugs also have the benefit of addressing inflammation, which can be an issue in some sources of knee pain.

Other medications, including corticosteroid injections, will only be available from a doctor. If what you are trying at home is not working, you may want to check in with your doctor.

Weight Management

Obesity or being overweight can cause additional stress on your knee. The going formula is that for every pound you lose, it reduces four pounds of force from your knees. Thus, weight loss is recommended for knee pain management. 

Aromatherapy Preparations

If you want to activate your sense of smell and get some relief, aromatherapy is a novel way to approach knee pain treatment at home. 

The chemicals in aromatherapy compounds affect your brain and body. The compounds get into your bloodstream when you put the oil on your skin or breathe it in. 

Eucalyptus and lavender are solid, commonly-found essential oils you can try at home.

Acupuncture

This long-standing practice from Eastern medicine is more and more prevalent as an alternative treatment method. As the Cleveland Clinic reported, one study of 18,000 patients found acupuncture to be helpful for many pain conditions, including knee osteoarthritis (osteoarthritis of the knee). 

In addition to promoting anti-inflammatory effects, acupuncture releases endogenous opioid endorphins (the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals).

Climate

Cold weather, rising barometric pressure and humidity can all affect joint pain, including the knees. That does not mean, though, that you need to move to a warmer, drier climate to help your knee pain. You can do things in your home and with your clothing to stay warmer in colder weather to bring about relief.

Yoga

Yoga is another low-impact exercise avenue allowing people to stretch and strengthen muscle groups. That obviously can have big benefits for people trying to prevent further knee pain as well as dealing with acute and chronic forms of knee pain.

Proper Healthy Diet

Eating well can help you feel better. You should definitely avoid those foods that encourage inflammation. 

A Harvard University article said that while foods like tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables (including spinach, kale, and collards), nuts, fruits, and fatty fish fight inflammation, foods like refined carbohydrates, fried foods, red meat, margarine, and soda all contribute to inflammation.

Also, if you are looking to lose weight to reduce the pressure on your knees, be mindful of a diet that will allow you to do that.

Lower Stress Levels

There are a number of ways to reduce stress. Finding the combination that works for you can not only change your perception of pain and how you experience your knee pain, but it can also have a direct impact on your knee pain itself.

Heat and Cold Therapy

As mentioned above in the section on RICE, ice is extremely helpful in constricting blood vessels and managing pain and swelling. That is why many health experts will recommend cold therapy not just for keen pain for many other different kinds of pain.

However, can relax muscles and help lubricate joints. Heat therapy, such as using heating pads, may be used to relieve muscle and joint stiffness, help warm up joints before activity, or ease a muscle spasm.

It is advisable to rely on ice alone for the first 48 to 72 hours after a knee injury, but after that, alternating between heat and cold may bring relief and healing.

Topical Treatments

There are a number of topical treatments available which can help with knee pain.

Capsaicin Creams and Rubs

Capsaicin is what makes hot peppers hot — in some cases, extremely hot — but it can also be effective as a pain reliever. 

Over time, capsaicin can also provide longer-lasting benefits by blocking a chemical in the body called substance P, which sends pain signals to the brain.

That means, even if you do not feel immediate relief applying a capsaicin cream, you may want to give it two weeks to see if you notice a difference over time.

Essential Oils

Aromatherapy can be helpful with both knee pain and the perception of knee pain, and essential oils can be a way to deliver that dual benefit directly to a person.

Herbal Ointment

Herbal ointments can be employed for knee pain treatment at home because they are so readily available. Ointments like Tiger Balm and Bengay contain camphor and menthol, which can be helpful in delivering pain relief.

Topical NSAIDs

Voltaren is an example of an OTC (over-the-counter) topical NSAID that can be applied directly to the body to address pain and inflammation. Pennsaid is another topical NSAID, though it typically will require a prescription — and some health care plans may require its users to try Voltaren first before switching over.

Supplements

A number of supplements, available at health food stores and some grocery stores, have properties that may help people with knee pain treatment at home. While they do not have the same sort of regulation as medicines do per the U.S. 

Food and Drug Administration, some people may find them to be effective in addressing knee pain issues.

Willow Bark

This herbal remedy may be effective for conditions like arthritis pain, bursitis, and tendonitis. According to a Mount Sinai article, several studies have shown people taking willow bark for osteoarthritis have experienced significant improvement in symptoms compared to those who received a placebo. 

However, for those sensitive to aspirin (and for all children under 18, due to concerns over Reye syndrome), it is best to stay away from willow bark.

Medical Marijuana

If medical marijuana is legal where you live, it may be worth investigating whether it brings you relief and whether you like its effects across the board. While there is an ongoing debate about the effects of medical marijuana on arthritis, as many as nine in 10 people find it effective in treating knee pain.

Apple Cider Vinegar and Other Foods

Though there is not definitive scientific evidence that specific foods have properties relieving knee pain, apple cider vinegar is often touted for its properties. 

Apple cider vinegar is a health food store staple that should be easy to find and worth a try.

Ginger

Another possibility in eating your way to knee pain relief is ginger, a root used extensively in Asian cuisines. Ginger has a reputation for anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer properties. 

For those who suffer from arthritis, ginger contains anti-inflammatory compounds that function in the same way as COX-2 inhibitors — drugs employed to treat pain and inflammation.

Ginger Extract

You do not need to eat ginger root or foods with ginger to get the benefits of ginger. You can get ginger extract as a supplement. 

Side effects to be wary of in some cases include unusual bleeding or bruising, unusual drowsiness, or an irregular heartbeat.

Turmeric

This spice is also available in supplement form, and is recognized for its anti-inflammatory properties. Experts claim it is the most anti-inflammatory food on the dietary inflammatory index.

Curcumin, a principal component of turmeric, is a bright yellow chemical purported to possess beneficial properties.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is another supplement that can be used in knee pain treatment at home. A study published by the NIH looking at the vitamin’s effectiveness in countering osteoarthritis finds that it may retard the progression of osteoarthritis by ameliorating oxidative stress and inflammation of the joint.

Glucosamine or Chondroitin

These supplements, often packaged together, are promoted as supporting joint health. As with several supplements, health experts debate their efficacy, though some people report positive effects from taking them.

Glucosamine is a natural chemical compound in your body that helps keep up the health of your cartilage — the rubbery tissue that cushions bones at your joints. 

However, as you get older, your levels of this compound begin to drop, which leads to the gradual breakdown of the joint. 

The idea behind a glucosamine supplement is to help people replace what they are no longer able to produce insufficient levels themselves.

Glucosamine is a natural chemical compound in your body that helps keep up the health of your cartilage, the rubbery tissue that cushions bones at your joints. 

However, as you get older, your levels of this compound begin to drop, which leads to the gradual breakdown of the joint. 

The idea behind a glucosamine supplement is to help people replace what they can no longer produce insufficient levels themselves.

Similarly, chondroitin is a naturally-occurring substance in connective tissues of both human and animal bodies. While the verdict is mixed on its ability to fight osteoarthritis, some studies suggest that it is effective. 

Researchers found that chondroitin appeared to reduce pain, increase joint mobility, and decrease the need for painkillers.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)

Methylsulfonylmethane, more commonly known as MSM, is another supplement marketed as helping people deal with osteoarthritis. MedlinePlus, however, is not bullish on its prospects in helping treat arthritis symptoms at home. It only grades MSM as being possibly effective in its treatment.

Therapies

There is a good deal of guesswork in knee pain treatment at home. While many home remedies or natural remedies you employ at home can be helpful, or at least not harmful, you want to also know what you should avoid.

Therapies To Avoid

There is a useful list of therapies to try vs. ones to avoid worth reviewing.

One piece of advice is not to rest too much. While rest is a staple of the RICE acronym that anchors much of in-home treatment, resting a knee too much can impact its mobility later on. 

Too much rest can weaken your muscles, inflicting joint pain further. 

Experts go on to recommend finding an exercise program that is safe for your knees and sticking with it. 

If you’re uncertain which motions are safe or how much you can do, talk with your doctor or a physical therapist.

They also caution against doing too much of the wrong kind of exercise. High-impact exercises may further damage painful knees. Individuals prone to injury should avoid jarring exercises like running, jumping, and kickboxing. 

In addition, avoid doing exercises like deep squats and lunges that so much stress on your knees. These exercises can worsen pain and, if not done correctly, cause injury.

Try Over-the-Counter Pain Medication

As mentioned earlier in this article, analgesics and NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, can go a long way toward relieving causes of knee pain.

Check In With Your Pharmacist

Your pharmacist or doctor should be able to give you an idea about the medications available to you. 

With some NSAIDs, depending on what medical professionals tell you, you may be able to take more than the dose prescribed on the packaging to safely meet your pain relief needs. 

However, that is definitely something that you want to get advice on before proceeding on your own.

When To See A Doctor?

The best barometer for when to see a doctor is your gut. Some symptoms accompanying an immediate injury resulting in knee pain should be concerning enough to get you on the phone with your doctor.

 If you experience severe pain in the injury or you hear a popping sound, those could be signs of very serious injuries requiring medical intervention.

Even if your knee pain comes on without an obvious injury causing it, the severity of redness or tenderness — especially when accompanied by a fever — may be enough for you to make an appointment with a medical professional.

It is, however, ultimately up to you. If your attempts at knee pain treatment at home are not delivering the needed level of relief or remedy of specific health conditions, you may need a doctor to help in the process.