How To Relieve Knee Pain Naturally

Dr. Tarrin P. Lupo, D.C.

how to relieve knee painOver time the pain from a knee injury goes away, but its function is never the same. These natural methods can help

Many of my patients want to know how to relieve knee pain. They want to know if there are any natural options to keep them out of knee surgery. Sometime surgery is absolutely necessary but many times people are way too fast to have an operation without exploring all the other options first.  Back pain is the number one reason people visit a doctor, but knee pain was the second most common reason patients came in to my clinic. Knee problems are very common because the joint is so easily injured.

Most people have either twisted, jammed, or torn something in their knee at some point in their life. It's at that point that you realize how important your knee joints are, and start scrambling around the Internet searching for how to relieve knee pain, naturally.

Over time the pain from a knee injury goes away, but its function is never the same. Eventually the malfunctioning joint becomes hyper-mobile or “sloppy” and wears out unevenly. Then the pain and swelling returns as the joint slowly self-destructs. 

Before I can answer how to relieve knee pain, I first must determine what the real reason for the knee pain is. Based on the type of knee pain, you will have to change your approach to relieving it.

Video: Dr. Lupo Discusses Knee Pain

Causes Of Knee Pain

how to relieve knee painMost knee pain is from osteoarthritis (DJD.) Injury causes a joint to become unstable and it eventually rubs bone on bone

Most knee pain is from osteoarthritis also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD.) This is basically wear and tear arthritis. An injury causes a joint to become unstable and it eventually rubs bone on bone. 

A smaller number of knee pain cases are caused by autoimmune arthritis. This is the case in conditions like rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis. The body attacks itself and affects both knees at the same time. It will also affect the rest of the joints in the body. This is more rare than DJD, but needs to be ruled out so your doctor can recommend the most effective approach. Some people can have both DJD and an autoimmune arthritis at the same time.

Most knee issues come from old injuries that come back to haunt a person in their later years. Chronic issues almost always involve structures in the knee called meniscuses.  These fibrous pads and articulating cartilage surfaces keep the thigh bone and shin bone from grinding each other down. If they get injured, the shock absorbing ability of the joint diminishes and they wear down faster. The knee is under enormous forces and pressure, so even a little laxity in a damaged ligament or meniscuses means big problems down the road.

The Unhappy Triad

how to relieve knee pain"Knee diagram" of the Unhappy Triad by Mysidd. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

The unhappy triad, also known as the terrible triad or O’Donoghue’s triad, is one of the most common knee injuries. This usually is seen as a result of sports or trauma to the lateral (outside) of the knee.

This injury is so nasty because three very important supportive structures all get injured at the same time, and the injury can cause complete loss of function. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament, and medial meniscus are the traditional sites of this presentation.  

  • What makes this knee damage particularly nasty is the involvement of the meniscus.

The anterior cruciate ligament actually attaches to a piece of the medial meniscus, so that when it tears, it usually rips a section of the meniscus off with it. This means a piece of the shock absorbing pad in your knee is now missing and the bone can grind on bone and create arthritis damage.

In contrast to the terrible triad, a sprain of just the ACL can damage the lateral meniscus instead of the medial meniscus. This is usually not as devastating but can lead to the destruction of the joint pretty quickly as well. 

How To Relieve Knee Pain Naturally

Many patients want to know how to relieve knee pain naturally. I wish I could answer this easily but it depends if the joint is in pain from osteoarthritis or and underlying autoimmune issue.

Osteoarthritis Management:

how to relieve knee pain

For most people suffering from traditional wear and tear you will want to focus on lubricating the joint, decreasing inflammation, and stabilizing the “sloppy knee.” 

LubricatingLubricating the joint and strengthening the cartridge can be managed with chondroitin sulfate, MSM (MethylSulfonylMethane), and lubricating oils. There is a plethora of nutraceuticals and vitamins on the market for this, but I have only found a small handful that do it well.

InflammationLong-term inflammation is the most immediate damaging component of osteoarthritis. The inflammation is a healthy response to a fresh injury but it is destructive if the response never turns off. The inflammation will exponentially speed up the damage to the knee. Luckily this can be dealt with pretty well with old school bags of ice. Also some anti-inflammatory supplements or nutraceuticals can help extinguish the inflammatory reaction. 

One wonderful piece of technology that I have seen amazing knee swelling results with is a cold quartz laser. This is a laser that does not use heat and is extremely safe. It sends energy into the cells and stimulates the mitochondria. This causes even old chronic stubborn injuries to start healing again. I am extremely impressed with the results I have seen with my patients under this laser. Ask your chiropractor to use it on your knees, and even to prescribe you a home unit.

A few years back cold quartz lasers were ridiculously expensive, but now they are better and cost less than ever before. If you don't want to pay US$3,000 -$5,000 to a doctor for rounds of treatment you might just want to buy your own to use all you like. This especially makes good financial sense if multiple people in the house need treatments; you can save a fortune. I have to advise finding a doctor who will train you how to use it properly at home and using a care plan they develop. It's hard to buy these without a medical license, but luckily there is a great model for sale right on Amazon (linked above.) You can't find a better laser for this price.

how to relieve knee painMost knee problems either originate as a dropped foot arch or are compounded by it. It is a losing uphill battle to only treat the knee and ignore the feet

Stabilizing The Sloppy JointThe most important thing regarding how to relieve knee pain naturally is a proper foot arch. I have adjusted and worked with hundreds of bad knees in my practice and one thing I really learned is that feet are critical to stabilize a knee. Most knee problems either originate as a dropped foot arch or are compounded by it. In my experience it is a losing uphill battle to only treat the knee and ignore the feet. The right foot orthotics are critical to management of knee pain.

Most people in the Western world have some degree of arch dropping, pronation, or supination. Humans were never meant to wear big chunks of shock-absorbing rubber on their feet. When a child is raised barefoot they develop strong arches in response to the stress. Cultures who do not wear shoes have much better health than the ones who do. In the Western world even infants wear tennis shoes. Foot arches are cradled and never allowed to develop properly under force. So almost everyone in modern society now has bad feet. 

Once the ligaments in your arches are ruined from growing up with shoes, they never tighten again. It would be like trying to tighten a rubberband that is already stretched out. The best thing you can do at this point is wear custom 3-arch orthotics for the rest of your life as often as possible.

  • Not all orthotics are made the same. Most of the orthotics you buy in the drug stores are only designed to make your sore feet feel better and don’t do much for the structure of your knee, hip, back, spine, shoulders, or neck. If you want foot orthotics that actually support the whole kinetic chain through your body and relieve your knees, you can’t use the cheap rubber one-size-fits all. You will want ones custom-made just for your arches. 

I have used all kinds of high-end brands in my practice and I always come back to Foot Leveler’s CRA Flex. They are the only foot orthotic that has everything you want. They support all 3 arches of the foot, not just the one medial arch, which is what almost all the other brands do. They are also flexible, which is a must for proper knee support. The rigid or hard orthotics that a patient often gets at a podiatrist will support only the foot. This usually resolves foot pain, but the lack of arch flexibility will drive all the stress and force directly into the knee. Lastly, the CRA Flex insoles are mostly made of real leather, so they support electron flow from the ground and support grounding. Rubber orthotics will act as an insulator and block electrical flow from the Earth.

how to relieve knee painDistraction is using traction or gravity to open and close the joint to pump in nutrients and pump out inflammation

DistractionAnother great answer when patients ask me how to relieve knee pain naturally is distraction of the knee joint.

Distraction is using traction or gravity to open and close the joint to pump in nutrients and pump out inflammation. One of the best ways I know to do this is with the use a distraction or isolation table

I have seen this machine have great results on knees in just a few treatments. Not all chiropractors have this setup or know how to distract knees. 

Be sure to ask around and find one who has lots of experience doing this procedure before signing up for a treatment plan.

  • An inexpensive way to distract a joint at home is to sit on a high chair and just hang an ankle weight on your foot and let gravity open the joint
  • By dangling a weight on the ankle it basically creates a low budget knee traction device. This is a very affordable way to traction the joint if the other treatments I talk about in this article are out of your budget

Take the weight off and on over and over (every 90 seconds) to create a pumping effect in the joint. This won’t get you the same results as a professional distraction table, but the price is right and you can do it at home.

how to relieve knee pain

Adjusting The "Sloppy" Knee: Before you exercise and strengthen the supporting muscles you need to make sure the joint is in proper alignment first. If you try to rehab a misaligned knee you will damage the joint much more. Think of it like trying to drive a car faster to fix the alignment; it just doesn't work. and destroys your tires faster. This is why a person with knee problems should always make a chiropractor their first stop before going to a physical therapist. Going straight to a PT rehab can be painful and damaging to the knee.

Try to find a chiropractor who focuses on extremities. Most chiropractors can actually realign the knee so it works better. There is a wonderful technique I learned via post-graduate training and have seen it work amazingly well on patients. It was developed by Dr. Charrette and the adjustment resets the supporting muscles of the knee. One of the biggest problems with chronic knee issues is the uneven pull of supporting knee muscles. One of the nerves running to the muscles of the knee fires more than it should. This causes one of the supporting knee muscles to tighten and pull much harder than it is supposed to. If this uneven pull goes on long enough it creates a chronic misalignment. This often causes chondromalacia aka "runners knee," or grinding of the kneecap. 

The Charrette chiropractic knee technique actually resets the nerves so they fire correctly to the knee. This in turn causes all the muscles to pull evenly, which stabilizes the joint. 

If you can't find a good chiropractor right away, you can get by for a while using a knee stabilizing brace. The brace won't correct the problem but it can stop the knee from getting worse and growing more unstable.

Exercise: This is a traditional way to help stabilize the joint but it really has limits. If the joint is very badly damaged, then exercise will exacerbate it and make it much worse. I would check with your chiropractor and have them build a custom exercise rehabilitation plan just for you. You can badly damage yourself if you do the wrong exercises for your specific condition, so play it safe and see a doctor before exercising. 

Autoimmune Knee Issues:

The systemic inflammation caused by an autoimmune reaction will cause damage to many joints at the same time, including the knees.

  • I have seen these reactions halt and even reverse by eating an autoimmune diet

An autoimmune knee patient could also benefit from all the same therapies described for osteoarthritis. However, if they ignore the autoimmune reaction they won’t ever see much progress for their knee pain. This kind of person must find out what is triggering the autoimmune response in their diet or environment and remove it. Only then will they have a chance to manage and stabilize their knee issues, as detailed above in the osteoarthritis section.

Weight Loss & Knee Pain

how to relieve knee painJust losing one pound equals a reduction of 4,800 pounds of pressure for each mile walked

This is probably the most effective way to relieve knee pain naturally. The knee and foot are greatly affected by gravity and biomechanics. The compressive forces on the joints of the upper body are far less than the forces into the lower body. As you go from the top of the body to the lower the amount of compression forces grow exponentially.  

  • Studies estimate that for every one pound you gain, a fourfold (x4) compression force is felt on the knee joint

Just losing one pound equals a reduction of 4,800 pounds of pressure for each mile walked. If you lose just 20 pounds that saves your knees 96,000 pounds of extra compressive load for every mile you walk.

Generally the most effective way to lose weight is to follow the same eating plan I would recommend to anyone who has inflammation issues, diabetes, or autoimmune issues. You can find the diet plan here.

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