Natural Pain Relief for Arthritis in the Knees

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The pain of arthritis in the knees is very bothersome, even sometimes it could be severe enough to interfere with your daily activities. About 76.2 million of people in this country suffer from chronic pain, and more than 50% have to do with arthritis, according to NCHS (the National Center for Health Statistics). OTC and prescription pain medicines are available. But if you’re looking for something ‘without pills’, the following natural pain relief options may help.

Heat and cold therapy

Heat and cold therapy has long been used as a natural pain reliever for various conditions, including arthritis. This simply, effective strategy is often helpful enough to relieve mild pains and aches. Plus, there is almost no downside since the therapy is less likely to cause side effects.

However, it’s also important to understand whether cold or heat is the best choice for your condition.

Heat therapy for knee pain

Heat is a natural way for pain relief, it is relaxing. Soaking in a steaming, warm bathtub or shower can help you fell soothed and comforted. It naturally eases your tense, sore, and stiff muscles – as well as soothes joint pain associated with arthritis. It boosts your blood flow, improving your body’s circulation.

Typically it’s best for joint pain with stiffness. But it’s not recommended when your knee joint is already hot, red or irritated. Applying heat on inflamed (hot, irritated) joint could be counterproductive because heat increases blood flow.

Cold therapy for knee pain

Cold relieves sensation of burning and inflammation. It can help numb areas affected by arthritis. So it’s best for knee joint pain with inflammation or redness. It’s not recommended when you joint is stiff.

Applying a cold pack (a bag of frozen veggies or an ice pack) on a swollen knee joint is also helpful to restore it back down to size. And when the size of swollen joint decreases, so does the pain.

Again, use heat or cold therapy properly! Make sure the temperature is not uncomfortably extreme. Temperature extremes may cause skin damage or other negative effects.

For more guidance about what to remember to use heat and cold therapies safely, see more in this section!

What you eat matters

A school of thought believes that certain foods play a role to help deal with arthritis pain. Is it fact or myth?

Unfortunately there is still no clear cut answer. But although the link between diet and arthritis is not fully understood yet, many people with arthritis find that what they eat often have an effect on controlling their arthritis symptoms.

A number of studies continue to comprehensively observe whether certain foods /spices may have a role in soothing arthritis joint pain and stiffness – and if so, how they work! Here are a few ones that get the attention.

Tart cherries

One research in 2013, published in the Osteoarthritis and Cartilage showed that tart cherry might have a positive effect to help improve mild to moderate knee pain associated with osteoarthritis [1]. Anthocyanin, an antioxidant, found in tart cherries is probably the key answer. This potent compound has anti-inflammatory effects.

Fatty fish

Mackerel, tuna, salmon, and trout are some fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (anti-inflammatory property). Adding them into your diet, 2-3 times a week, is a good way to help fight inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are also available in supplement (if you are not a fan of fish), ask your doctor!


This allium family spice contains a potent compound called diallyl disulfide. Regularly eating garlic or other foods from the allium family (e.g. leeks and onions) might help reduce the risk of osteoarthritis, according to some studies [2]. Diallyl disulfide is thought to have an effect in blocking cartilage-damaging enzymes.


Curcumin, a key potent compound found in turmeric, may do wonders for pain associated with inflammation, including arthritis pain. A review in 2012, published in IJMS (the International Journal of Molecular Sciences) suggested that curcumin could provide positive effects in controlling chronic inflammatory-related joint disorder.

But turmeric should be used carefully. It could also be counterproductive if used improperly.

Cruciferous family vegetables

These include cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. These vegetables are high in a compound called sulforaphane, which is essential to help protect the cartilage of your knee joint. According to a study involving mice in 2013, published in the Journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, showed that sulforaphane might effectively slow down cartilage damage due to osteoarthritis by blocking certain enzymes that contribute to joint destruction [3].

Although more studies are required (it’s an early study), this finding is promising. Moreover, it’s not bad idea to add cruciferous family vegetables to your stir-fry or salad, they are high in nutritional properties (e.g. fiber, vitamins, and minerals) – they’re healthy goodies.

The power of vitamin C

Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant. A number of studies suggest that vitamin C plays a role to reduce the risk of osteoarthritis. One study in 2011 published by the University of South Florida showed that participants who took vitamin C supplements had 11 percent lower risk of developing osteoarthritis [4].

Also, vitamin C is involved to make collagen. Collagen is not only essential for your skin health, but also important to keep your joint strong and healthy since it is part of cartilage.

Vitamin C is easy to be found in many various foods (e.g. kiwi, citrus fruits, and some vegetables). It’s also available in supplement – but ask your doctor first, because high dose of vitamin C could be counterproductive!

There is no magic formula when it comes to natural pain relief for arthritis. Although foods and spices mentioned above have a few evidences to support the claim, it’s still necessary to stay with healthy eating with variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and other healthy goodies.

Your diet is one of the most important pillars to keep your weight off. Maintaining weight is crucial for people with arthritis.

In addition, we are often suggested that alcohol is bad for our overall health. The same goes for your arthritis prognosis. Drinking alcohol may help soothe the pain for a while, but actually it will worsen the problem. Too much alcohol may also impair the body’s ability to repair the damaged cells. Moreover, it adds more excess calories in your diet (bad for your weight control). So, restrict or (if possible) avoid alcohol!

Stay at a healthy weight

Weight does have an effect to your joints, especially knee joints. More excess weight you gain, more pressure and load on your knee. In fact, being obese /overweight is one of the most common factors that contribute to knee pain.

Also, more excess fats you gain may stimulate a number of inflammatory mediators — more fats, more inflammation. So if you’re not at your healthy scale, weight loss will help a lot to help provide pain relief for arthritis in your knees and control the disease better.

Even losing just 10%of the body weight can sometimes carry a significant difference. For instance, each pound of excess weight you lose may significantly decrease the load on your knees by about 2-3 pounds or more.

Need more reasons? Here are other health advantages of weight loss for people with arthritis:

  1. Better joint health in long term. Being at your best scale appears to boost the overall health of your knee joint function. One study suggests more excess pounds you lose are equivalent to the improvement of mechanical pressures inside knee joints [5].
  2. Sleeping well at night. Sleep problems can be attributed by many factors, one of them could be musculoskeletal pain. And sleep deprivation can make the pain worse. Weight loss (when you’re being overweight /obese) can promote better sleep, so can arthritis pain.
  3. Good for overall health and quality of your life. It’s undeniable that healthy weight plays a role to promote health and wellness. And if your body is generally fit, this can help a lot to deal with your arthritis symptoms and manage the disease better.
  4. To help keep heart healthy, which is important for anyone especially people with arthritis. Inflammatory arthritis (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and gout) increases the risk of heart disease. And this risk could be much worse if you’re out of shape.
  5. Weight loss also has been shown to help reduce costs. Being at your best shape is important to make your arthritis flare-ups less likely. This means cost savings since you will have fewer medications for your arthritis.

Please remember, avoid any extreme ways when it comes to losing weight! Reduce your excess weight gradually to keep your weight off in long term. If you shed pounds very fast, you’re more likely to regain weight afterwards. Also, shedding pounds too fast will lose water, muscle, and bone instead of fat.

Exercise properly

Arthritis knee pain may improve with some specific exercises. Exercise is also helpful to improve flexibility, stiffness, and the overall health of your knee joints.

When you’re ready for exercise, here are a few examples to explore.


This exercise can help improve your balance. With better balance and stability, you reduce the impacts on your knees.

Stand straight against a wall. Raise one of your legs to the side, keep your toe slightly in or pointing forward – also, keep straight (don’t lean to stationary side)! Then lower leg down. Do this 15-20 times for each leg.


It’s aimed to help ease joint stiffness and improve the strength of your leg muscles.

Use a chair or something else to support your body. Stand up straight behind the chair and make sure both knees are aligned. Lift one foot and bend the knee toward the buttocks, hold a few seconds and then lower down. Do about 10-25 times on each side!


This knee exercise is intended to strengthen muscles surrounding your knees as well as improve the flexibility of the knees. It is also great to improve your posture.

Seat and then cross your ankles while contracting your thighs (see picture above), hold about 10-30 seconds. Repeat the same exercise for another side. Do 3-4 sets for each side. You can also try this with your legs outstretched.


Your glutes is vital to ease the load on the knees, making knee strain less likely. They are one of your body’s workhorses. So it’s important to keep them strong.

If you’re able for lying exercises, do the following steps.

Lie down on left /right side. Bend your knees (about 9 degrees) with hips, feet, and shoulders aligned. Then lift one of your knees (top knee) as far as you can, and then lower the knee slowly. Do 10-25 times for each knee!


Your hamstrings are also vital to support the range of motion of your knees. Poor flexibility of the hamstrings will make your knees work harder.

Lie down with legs outstretched (on your back). Bend the knees, and grab your right thigh with hands. Slowly pull your right leg toward your chest. Then relax your arms and the knee is pointed straight up. Now move your right leg straight up as much as possible. Slowly release and outreach the leg! Repeat this exercise a few times on each side.

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Here are a few important points to remember:

  1. Exercise therapy is more recommended when your knee is ready enough for exercise. It’s usually not recommended during flare-ups. For more guidance, working with your physician is your best bet.
  2. Start your exercise slowly to reduce the risk of injury or other counterproductive effects. Listen your body’s signals, don’t push yourself too hard!
  3. Your training regimes are adjusted accordingly. Sometimes it’s necessary to stop your exercise for a while if your pain or other symptoms get worse. So always pay attention to your arthritis symptoms.

What else to help cope with arthritis pain?

Painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications are conventional treatments for arthritis pain in the knees. Since medications carry a number of side effects, don’t rely on them alone.

Prevent, relieve, and manage your stress

What you feel can affect you physically, including arthritis pain. Emotional reactions (feeling extremely stressed or depressed) may factor into worsening arthritis symptoms. They can drive you to become less active (sedentary), cause sleep problems, or inhibit you from committing what you know you need to (e.g. eating right and taking your medications properly). Also, stress can boost certain chemicals in the body that provoke inflammation.

In some cases, stress can be prevented. But it’s inevitable in most cases. Whatever it is, it’s manageable! Here are a few helpful tips:


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