Dealing With Knee Pain

UW Health Orthopedics in Madison, Wisconsin, provides comprehensive care for patients with knee pain, ranging from nagging pain that may benefit from non-surgical rehabilitation to chronic, debilitating pain caused by knee arthritis that can be treated with total knee replacement surgery.


About Knee Arthritis


Knee arthritis affects 10 to 20 percent of adults older than 60. While there are many treatments available to help manage the pain and discomfort associated with knee osteoarthritis, the best management techniques usually include a combination of non-pharmacological (non-medication) and pharmacological methods.


Non-Medication-Based Treatment Methods

  • Exercise: When patients experience pain or discomfort, it might be surprising that exercise is one of the best recommendations for knee osteoarthritis. Strengthening and aerobic exercise are actually associated with pain relief and improved knee function.
  • Weight loss: For patients who are overweight, losing weight and maintaining a healthy body weight can help manage and even improve symptoms.
  • Walking aids: Walking aids, such as canes or crutches, have been shown to be helpful for patients. However, it is important that individuals receive proper instruction on how to use them. For people with osteoarthritis in both knees, a frame walker may be preferable.
  • Knee bracing: Some people may benefit from knee bracing, particularly in cases where the knees are becoming deformed as a result of the osteoarthritis.
  • Footwear and orthotics: Insoles can reduce pain and improve walking for certain patients.
  • Ice and heat: While effective only for the short term, heat and ice therapy can help provide some relief from symptoms.
  • Physical therapy: UW Health physical and occupational therapists can work with patients suffering from knee pain that does not require surgery to restore function and ease pain. Learn more

Medication-Based Therapies


When non-medication-based treatments aren’t enough, physicians may prescribe some pain relievers, including acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, topical medications, cortisone shots and hyaluronic acid injections. Glucosamine and/or chondroitin sulphate, which are commonly advertised as promoting joint health, may be used, but if no benefit is seen after six months, it's usually best to discontinue use.


Do I Need Knee Replacement Surgery?


Partial or total knee replacement surgery can help people who have struggled with chronic, debilitating knee pain. How can you decide if knee replacement surgery is for you?

  • Get the facts and know which questions to ask with our knee replacement surgery primer. 
  • Ask yourself a few questions, including:
    • Do you have a body mass index (BMI) of less than 40? That's a necessity for this surgery.
    • Do you have any medical conditions, such as diabetes? They must be stable to be considered for surgery.
    • Have you had an x-ray in the past six months that shows arthritis?
    • Does your knee pain prevent you from sleeping?
    • Are you able to participate in activities you enjoy?
    • Can you walk or climb stairs without pain?
  • If you decide to have surgery, learn more about knee replacement surgical procedures.