What to know about easing knee pain

It’s hard to ignore aching knees. Knee pain can make just about any move harder, from getting out of a car to walking up and down the stairs.

If you suffer from knee pain, you’re not alone. “Knee pain is a very common complaint,” says Nadya Swedan, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in New York City.

There are all sorts of conditions that can cause knees to ache. Arthritis is one, and it may start to affect people as young as 35, explains Dr. Swedan. But injuries, inflammation and overusing your knee through repetitive movements may also trigger knee pain, she explains. No matter what’s causing the discomfort, there are ways to help ease the ache.

How to stop sudden knee pain

RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) is a common acronym to help people remember how to support knee injuries.1

  • Rest. Avoid putting pressure on your knee.
  • Ice. Apply cold packs for 20 minutes throughout the day, but make sure you don’t apply directly to your skin.
  • Compression. Gently wrap the knee.
  • Elevation. Raise your knee higher than your heart to reduce swelling.

If your knee pain isn’t severe, these 3 tips may help offer additional relief.2

1. Try anti-inflammatories

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and naproxen may help with pain and swelling. Similar topical treatments like gels were found equally effective as these oral pain relievers, for patients with adverse stomach conditions.3 Talk to your provider if your knee still hurts after taking pain relievers for more than a day or 2.2

2. Use cold therapy

If you’ve injured your knee, applying ice may reduce swelling and relieve the ache. On the first day, you may want to apply a cold compress or ice wrapped in a towel every hour for up to 15 minutes. After that first day, apply cold therapy at least 4 times throughout the day.2

3. Examine your shoes

If your knees just started hurting or are aching on and off, you may want to freshen up your footwear. This is especially true if you’re a runner, walker or someone who spends a lot of time on their feet, explains Dr. Swedan.

Shoes need to have good cushioning to protect your knees. That cushioning can wear down with use, which is why investing in a new, quality pair of shoes may help. Another option is to look into special inserts (orthotics) or orthopedic shoes that may offer more support.2

Relieving chronic or serious knee pain

If your pain isn’t going away, something more serious could be the cause. Common knee pain often comes from the wearing down of cartilage in the knee joints — something that can often result from arthritis. Injuries may also cause tearing of the ligaments and tendons that surround the knee.1 In these cases, aching knees may need other types of treatments, including the following options:


A health care provider or pain management specialist might recommend injecting medications into the knee to help relieve pain. For example, corticosteroid injections may help reduce pain and inflammation for about a month. If you have arthritis, hyaluronic acid injections may be used to help with pain and stiffness for up to 6 months. Hyaluronic acid helps replace the natural lubricant that breaks down in arthritic joints.4


This is often a last resort if shots or other pain relievers don’t work for people who have structural damage in their knee, like torn ligaments or cartilage. It may also be an option for those who need a knee replacement.5,6

Exercise to help build up knee strength

Resting is a good option for those who have an injury or knee pain. But if you’re living with persistent aches, you may be able to help protect your knees from further pain by doing knee exercises.2

Strengthening the muscle groups around the knee, in particular, may help provide dynamic stability to the knee, so it doesn’t slide from side to side, notes Bill Kelley, Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree, Certified Athletic Trainer and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. It’s this sliding that could cause pain and potential injury.

Certain exercises may help restore knee function and strengthen surrounding leg muscles. Be sure to talk to your health care provider before starting any exercise program. They may also refer you to a physical therapist.

Physical therapists typically ask about your symptoms, watch how you move and recommend targeted exercises. Their goal is to help make your muscles strong and joints flexible so they can work efficiently without pain.7

Between home treatments, exercises, medications and physical therapy, there are many ways to help you comfortably get back on your feet — and back to doing your favorite activities. Talk to your provider to determine the best ways to help ease your knee pain.

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