Updated 04 November 2016

Drug-free relief for knee pain

Reaching for the anti-inflammatories every time your knee pain flares up is not always the best option. Here are some drug-free pain relief options.


Millions of people suffer from chronic knee pain, often caused by injury to the knee.

While the first reaction is to reach for a bottle of painkillers, there are other ways to manage the pain. 

While there are many over the counter medications, known as non-steroidal anti-flammatories (NSAIDs), to manage chronic knee pain, persistent use can have detrimental effect on your liver, and stomach.

Read: Can yoga ease your arthritis pain?

The cardiovascular effects of many of these drugs is also unclear and people with heart disease, high blood pressure, or strokes are advised not to use them.

Natural treatment options for knee pain

Gels: Fortunately there is much research being done in this area which has led to the development of topical water-based gels which use nano technology to lubricate the joints, thereby providing pain relief and enabling more joint mobility. Research has been favourable and most patients reported pain relief and better joint mobility.

Rest: Simply resting the knee will give the injury time to heal and help prevent further damage.

Ice: Regular icing can reduce pain and inflammation. A simple bag of frozen veg van be used but recommendations are to ice for no for longer than 20 minutes at a time.

Compression: A lightweight compression bandage will help prevent fluid build-up in damaged tissues and maintains knee alignment and stability.

Elevation: Keep the knee elevated as much as possible to reduce swelling.

Glucosamine and chondroitin: These supplements have been shown in some studies to relieve osteoarthritis pain.

Acupuncture:  Research suggests that acupuncture may help relieve knee pain caused by osteoarthritis. It involving the insertion of long, thin, sharp needles at specific points on the body, acupuncture has been touted as a treatment for osteoarthritis pain.

Light exercise: Exercises such as aerobic, muscle-strengthening and water-based exercises which include muscle strengthening exercises can improve range of motion, increase mobility and ease pain.

Weight loss: If you are overweight, losing weight reduce pain by lessening the stress on the affected joints.

Walking aids: The use of canes and crutches can reduce pain by taking the pressure off the joint when walking. In some instances associated knee instability, a knee brace helps lessen the pain, improve stability and reduce the risk of falling.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS):  This is a technique in which a weak electric current is given through electrodes which are placed on the skin. These help stop messages from pain receptors from reaching the brain and is often used effectively in short-term pain control.

Diet: Some foods contain antioxidants which have been shown to specifically benefit people with knee osteoarthritis:

o Vitamin E: A strong antioxidant found in almonds, sunflower seeds and oil, safflower oil, hazelnuts, peanuts and spinach.

o Vitamin D:  found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna as well as yogurt, orange juice and some cereals.

o Vitamin C: is found in oranges, bell peppers, grapefruit, strawberries and broccoli.

o Vitamin K: found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale, turnip and mustard greens, collards and Swiss chard.

Read more:

Three kinds of exercise that can improve arthritis

5 arthritis home remedies that work 

A guide to pain therapy 


Maintain a healthy weight to help reduce strain in your knees , 4 foods that may fight knee osteoarthritis, 

25 Treatments for Arthritis Hip and Knee Pain, 


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Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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