February 12, 2020

What You Can Do About Stiff Achy Knees (at Any Age)

How to alleviate pain in your knees

Woman icing and elevating her hurting knee

The most common cause of knee pain can hit you in your 30s as easily as it can in your 60s and 70s. Orthopaedic surgeon Robert Nickodem Jr., MD says osteoarthritis, or “wear-and-tear arthritis,” is the most common cause of knee pain – and the most common form of arthritis.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Osteoarthritis includes more than 100 different types of arthritis or joint inflammation and rates of it have been steadily rising year after year.

“Osteoarthritis is like a rusty hinge,” says Dr. Nickodem. “The knee still works, but it creaks.”

Fortunately, osteoarthritis is treatable. You may never be completely pain-free, but you can manage the condition and keep your symptoms under control.

To help alleviate the “creaking” and soothe your knee discomfort, Dr. Nickodem recommends:

Advertisement
  • Anti-inflammatory medications. Try aspirin or ibuprofen. Acetaminophen is a good pain reliever, but does not reduce inflammation.
  • RICE therapy. Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation can help reduce swelling and pain.
  • Physical therapy. Exercise that strengthens your quads and hamstrings may help relieve the pressure on your knees.
  • Knee braces. They can take pressure off the arthritic area.
  • Cortisone injections. An occasional injection of this steroid may lessen the swelling and achy pain.
  • Lubricant injections. Viscosupplementation, or lubricant injections, can help the knee move more smoothly. “It can help three out of four people if the arthritis isn’t too severe,” Dr. Nickodem says.

What is ‘wear and tear’ arthritis?

How can you tell if you have osteoarthritis?

“If you have pain inside your knee, under your kneecap, especially when kneeling, squatting or going up and down steps, it’s usually wear-and-tear arthritis,” says Dr. Nickodem.

Cartilage, the cushioning between bones, deteriorates throughout life. It can erode more quickly in some people due to injury or genetics. As cartilage thins, your bones begin to rub together, causing pain, swelling and stiffness.

Sometimes the level of pain does not always correlate to the severity of the condition.

Advertisement

When to call your doctor

If your pain and swelling are getting worse and you can no longer put weight on your knee, see your doctor. A simple X-ray can show if there is osteoarthritis and, if needed, an MRI scan can check for meniscal tears or loose chips of cartilage.

Arthroscopic surgery can sometimes remove loose cartilage. Partial or total knee replacements are other surgical options, especially for those who can no longer stay as active as they’d like. Sometimes computer assistance is used for some complicated knee replacements.

“Surgery is a last resort, though,” says Dr. Nickodem. “It’s something to consider when nonoperative treatments aren’t helping.”

Related Articles

Adult running on treadmill to cushion their knees.
November 5, 2023
Is Running Bad for Your Knees?

Running doesn’t cause knee arthritis, but you can take steps to minimize cartilage damage

icing knee to help with pain
July 18, 2021
IT Band Stretches and Treatments to Relieve Knee and Hip Pain

Take the ache away from your joints with these at-home exercises

patellar Tendon Strap
July 6, 2021
How a Patellar Tendon Strap Works

The simple and inexpensive band is a proven way to ease your knee pain

elderly man experiencing knee pain at night
February 11, 2021
Why Do I Have Knee Pain at Night?

And tips for how to ease the hurt

runner with horrible knee pain
July 21, 2020
Here’s How You’re Making Your Knee Pain Worse

Don't let these aches and pains set you back

Illustration of doctor explaining 4 questions
February 6, 2020
4 Questions That Help Solve Your Knee Pain Mystery

Consider these common reasons for knee pain

Older man with knee pain in doctor's office
September 2, 2019
Could Nerve Blocks or Radiofrequency Ablation Help Ease Your Knee Pain?

Non-surgical ways to help you function better

Top view of person sitting in bathtub with cold water and lots of ice.
November 26, 2023
Brrr! What To Know About Cold Plunges

An ice bath can ease sore muscles and decrease inflammation after a workout

Trending Topics

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try

Exercise and diet over three months is hard to accomplish.
Everything You Need To Know About the 75 Hard Challenge

Following five critical rules daily for 75 days may not be sustainable

Person in foreground standing in front of many presents with person in background holding gift bags.
What Is Love Bombing?

This form of psychological and emotional abuse is often disguised as excessive flattery

Ad