8 Natural Ways To Fight Knee Pain
By Cindy Kuzma December 10, 2015
When knee pain strikes, popping a pill may be easy, but it’s only a quick fix. These over-the-counter pain medications may be able to calm joint aches and swelling, but they have downsides that range from gastrointestinal distress to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. (In fact, the FDA just strengthened the cardiovascular warnings on the bottles of ibuprofen and naproxen—yikes.) Get off the pain-pill train by using one or more of these techniques—they’re safe and effective.
1. Change Your Routine
While knee pain shouldn’t hold you back from the things you love, you may want to consider a short-term shift to your exercise regimen, says Long Island, New York–based physical therapist Annette Marshall Franey.
Try trading your usual walk or run for a pool workout or stationary cycling, which can be easier on the knees, says Franey. With the bike, be sure to choose an upright position rather than a bike that allows you to recline while you pedal. Adjust the seat so your knee is directly below your hip and your leg is almost straight at the bottom of the pedaling cycle, she says.
Yoga can help with knee pain, but certain poses—such as the warrior series—can put pressure on the joint if they aren’t executed correctly: Make sure your knee doesn’t drift inward during lunging positions. Also, let your instructor about your symptoms so he or she can watch you closely and provide modifications, advises Franey. (Want to work out more but struggling to find the time? Then try Fit in 10, the new workout program that only takes 10 minutes a day.)
2. KT Tape
This thin, stretchy adhesive you can find at most pharmacies helps relieve pressure and inflammation, improves circulation, and provides support to the muscles surrounding the knee joint, says Holley J. DeShaw, LMT, a massage therapist in West Linn, OR, who works with elite, professional, and Olympic athletes. Start with clean, dry skin, then check the manufacturer’s website for instructions on exactly how to apply it for pain in your inner or outer knee, back of your knee, or for full knee support.
For a quick fix, pick up the new PRO-X patches ($19.99 on kttape.com). Simply place them on the point of achiness for targeted relief from musclepain, overuse injuries, and tendon issues. “They only take a moment to apply,” DeShaw says, and they have the proper tension already built in.
3. Foam Rolling
If you haven’t discovered the magic of rolling, your knee is telling you it’s time: Using a foam roller is the newest way to improve flexibility and loosen tight muscles that can put pressure on your joint, says John Connolly, PT, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist at Armonk Physical Therapy & Sports Training in Armonk, NY.
Rolling the outsides of your thighs—where the tough band of fibrous tissue called the IT band is located—can break down painful adhesions in this area, Connolly says. And rolling your quads or hamstrings can loosen these big muscles which helps improve the tracking of your kneecap; when your walk or run, tight quads can pull your knee cap to the side with every stride, leading to the pain under the bone known as runner’s knee. (Here are more foam roller moves.)
4. Hip Strengthening
“The hip plays a big role in how the knee will function,” Connolly says. Building strength in your hips and glutes keeps your knee in proper alignment, and that takes pressure off the joint. In fact, in a recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, knee rehab programs that included hip-focused moves provided better pain relief and improved motion.
Start with a move Connolly calls the clamshell: Lie on your side with your legs bent and a resistance band looped around your knees. Raise and lower your top leg 8 to 10 times, then change sides and repeat.
Get a neoprene brace with a round hole for your kneecap, and wear it during any activity that triggers the ache, Connolly recommends. Putting the squeeze on the joint helps reduce swelling and activate the surrounding muscles, which help stabilize the joint. Plus, the sensory feedback you get from the brace can help you avoid movements that make your knee feel worse, Franey says.
If mild knee discomfort tends to strike you mid-workout, try lighter compression gear (such as CW-X Stabilyx tights, $105—or buy just the knee support for $40). These types of garments provide targeted support that help absorb shock while keeping the joint warm and loose, says Connolly.
6. Sleep Better
Here’s a vicious cycle: Knee pain can interrupt sleep—and poor sleep seems to make your knees ache even worse, according to findings just published in the Journal of Pain. The findings suggest that disrupted sleep changes the way your brain processes pain, leaving you more sensitive.
Scientists think inflammation or altered levels of brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin may be to blame. To drift off to dreamland more easily, try a cold glass of tart cherry juice a half-hour before bed, recommends nutritionist and exercise physiologist Stacy Sims, PhD. A recent study from Texas A&M University suggests the juice can reduce post-workout pain, and it may help boost the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, says Sims.
This technique can boost blood flow and help ease inflammation, says Franey: Lie down and lift your knee above your heart. Place your thumb on one side of the joint and your fingers on the other. With very light pressure and long strokes, slide your hand over your knee toward your heart. Franey recommends doing this for 5 minutes, twice a day—or anytime you notice puffiness.
This spice gives curry its warm taste and golden hue—and it slows down key compounds in your body’s inflammatory process. (Here are 9 healing benefits of turmeric.) In a recent study in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging, 1,400 milligrams of Curcuma domestica extract—the active ingredient in turmeric—per day worked as well to relieve knee arthritis as 1,200 milligrams of ibuprofen—the equivalent of 6 regular pills, the maximum advisable daily dose.