Must Arthritic Knees Be Replaced?

If your doctor says you have arthritis in your knee, does that mean you will need knee replacement surgery? The short answer is not necessarily. Fortunately, your body can compensate for the loss of function caused by arthritic damage to cartilage and bone in a knee joint, even if x-ray evidence seems to indicate that the arthritis is severe.

Strong hip and thigh muscles compensate for the knee’s possible weakness as you walk and move about. Individually tailored exercises strengthen these muscles, as well as improve flexibility and range of motion in the affected knee.

Other strategies, too, will lessen pain and reduce the possibility of surgery. These include

  • losing weight if you are overweight
  • avoiding activities that give you particular trouble
  • taking anti-inflammatory medications (if your physician prescribes)

Supportive devices—ranging from knee braces or sleeves to energy-absorbing shoe inserts to canes—also can play an important role in lessening arthritis’ impact. We can, for instance, evaluate your particular arthritis presentation and recommend one of the two main types of knee-stabilizing braces that is right for you:

  • A support brace helps support the whole knee joint and helps evenly displace the weight, or load, you put on your knee with each step.
  • An unloader brace, especially useful if the arthritis affects one side of the knee more than the other, shifts load toward the healthier side.

We have other ways to reduce knee pain, as well, such as ultrasound to help increase blood flow to the surrounding muscles and heat and cold therapies, alternating, if necessary.

Physical therapy can be a powerful tool that may help you avoid invasive surgery to treat arthritis. An exercise regimen tailored to your needs and abilities can help you achieve your goals.