Treating knee osteoarthritis is basically — we can break it down into two components. There’s reducing the inflammation within the knee, and then there’s getting all of the muscles and the biomechanics right to take the pressure off of the knee so that the same forces aren’t going through it so the inflammation doesn’t re-accumulate.
A question that doctors who treat knee pain get asked a lot is about supplements. “Are there supplements that are right for me?” is a question that we’ll hear a lot of. And there are a lot of supplements that are out there, as we all probably know, that are ideally oriented to help treat knee pain arthritis. The two that have the most research behind them are Glucosamine and Chondroitin.
There’s been a lot of controversy over whether or not Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplements actually affect knee pain and knee arthritis in a positive way or not. And there seems to be a lot of conflicting data, the way that I look at the research is that there seems to be something to it, and yet the original data that came out was a lot more positive, and some of the newer data is a lot less positive.
What I generally tell patients is that Glucosamine and Chondroitin is something that if you are interested it’s definitely worth trying; it’s not gonna hurt you. It can be a little bit costly. And if you feel like it’s helping you, use it, and then maybe at a certain point, stop using it and see if the pain comes back. And if the pain comes back, then you know that it was helping you or at least it was doing something for you in which case go back onto them. And if the pain doesn’t come back, well maybe it did address it or in any event you don’t have to keep taking it if the pain is not there anymore.
Omega-3 fatty acids is another supplement that a lot of people take for inflammation in general. And I think that it is nice anti-inflammatory that a lot of people can take. And whether or not it helps knee pain directly, I think that the jury is still out on that. There’s certainly not a lot of great data to suggest that it does. But it does generally have a good anti-inflammatory effect and it may be something you talk to your doctor about and may be appropriate for you. There may be a lot of other benefits you may derive from it. It’s a conversation worth having with your doctor if one is interested in taking supplements like that.
There are many topical medications. Some over the counter, those are more like menthol creams like Icy-Hot® and different topical preparations that can help alleviate the pain from knee arthritis. And then there are some prescription medications that are topical, like Voltaren® gel, Flector® Patch, and Pennsaid®, that are basically topical diclofenac, which is like topical Advil®, it’s a topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that then diffuses through the skin and can help with some of the pain from different musculoskeletal injuries and to an extent, with knee osteoarthritis as well. It’s probably not going to fix the knee osteoarthritis but it can be one of those helpful adjuncts as one goes through, for example, physical therapy.