Knee Pain Relief: Exercises, Medications & Self-Care Tips

Self physiotherapy due to knee pain.
Self physiotherapy due to knee pain.Adobe Stock
Medically Reviewed By:
Mark Arredondo, M.D.

Wondering what might be causing your knee pain and how to best manage it?

Here, experts break down the common causes and ways that knee pain manifests, and the symptoms that can strike. Plus, discover how to find relief for your knee pain with stretches, exercises, self-care strategies and certain medications and painkillers.

What is knee pain?

According to Beaumont Health Systems, knee pain includes:

  • Mild, moderate or severe pain

  • Shooting pain

  • A dull, aching feeling

  • Burning sensations

Dr. James Bicos, orthopedic sports medicine fellowship director at Corewell Health’s Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., said that knee pain can show up in a few key places.

“Typically for knee pain, a lot of people come in and point to the kneecap. The other part is on the inside part of the knee, you know, and that's a common area that there's cartilage tears,” he explained.

Knee pain causes

In addition to everyday wear and tear, Beaumont Health says knee pain can be caused by:

  • Arthritis

  • Tendonitis

  • Dislocated kneecap

  • A break or fracture

  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (kneecap pain)

  • Iliotibial band syndrome (tendon irritation)

  • Meniscus tear

  • Infection

  • Pain in the foot or hip that changes your walking style

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear

The American Academy of Orthaepedic Surgeons (AAOS) explains that ACL tears are one of the most common types of knee injuries that cause pain. One study published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that genes play a large role in contributing to ACL injuries.

"To put it very simply, we can say that out of all cruciate ligament injuries, 69% can be explained by genetics,” researcher Karin Magnusson said in a news release on the study.

Knee pain symptoms

Beaumont Health notes that knee pain symptoms include:

  • Swelling

  • Stiffness

  • Weakness

  • Warm sensations

  • Popping sounds

  • Redness

  • Inability to fully straighten your leg or knee

Knee pain treatments: How to get relief

“So, the best thing would be…the RICE method…rest, ice, compression and elevation,” Bicos explained. “That's kind of the biggest thing. [A] bag of ice on it helps with inflammation. And then just getting it up and elevated and taking either the pressure off or not doing…activity for a little time helps.”

Knee pain medications

Beaumont Health recommends using anti-inflammatory medications to help find knee pain relief.

What’s the best painkiller for knee pain?

“Tylenol is relatively safe to take. Ibuprofen or Motrin are fine, you know, sometimes depending on your other medical conditions,” advised Bicos.

“There's [also] a lot of these anti-inflammatory gels, what is called Voltaren gel,” he continued. “It used to be prescription strength in the U.S. and now it's basically over the counter…it can definitely help to relieve the inflammation within the knee.”

Knee pain exercises and stretches

The AAOS recommends several stretches and exercises that can help condition and strengthen your knee, including:

  • Hamstring curls

  • Heel cord stretch

  • Half squats

  • Hip abduction

  • Standing quadriceps stretch

  • Calf raises

  • Heel cord stretch

  • Supine hamstring stretch

  • Hip adduction (bringing your legs inward)

  • Leg presses

“Really, initially, it's just making sure the knee doesn't get stiff,” Bicos explained. “We do recommend making sure that it [the leg] comes fully out straight and people can work on bending it.”

He cautioned that stretches for knee pain should only be done with the recommendation of your doctor.

“Sometimes if it's an operative tear, something we're going to do surgery with, you know, we do want to make sure that the knee is not too stiff going into surgery,” Bicos said. “But other tears…we don't want them to move it for…maybe 10 to 13 days or 14 days just so that tear can heal.”

What exercises for knee pain does Bicos recommend?

“I always say…yoga is great. Pilates are great, biking is great, too, anything that's non-impact. Swimming is also great,” he said.

Knee pain self-care

Here are a few key knee pain self-care strategies that Beaumont Health recommends:

  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet

  • Try to lose excess weight, to ease the stress and pressure on your knee

  • Avoid activities that make your knee pain worse

Living with knee pain

When you’re living with knee pain, a knee brace for pain can help with daily activities, especially if you’ve got a sprain or torn cartilage, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Bicos noted that while milder knee issues may heal on their own, it’s important to know when to see your doctor.

“Give it about maybe 10 to 14 days. If it doesn't get better, that's typically when you want to come in,” he advised. “The other thing is that if there's a lot of swelling, and there's some sort of trauma that happened, you also want to come in because that could be a sign of something… tearing within the knee.”


James Bicos, MD, Orthopedic Sports Medicine Fellowship Director, Corewell Health’s Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Mich.

Beaumont Health Systems: Knee Pain Treated at Beaumont

American Academy of Orthaepedic Surgeons: Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries

American Academy of Orthaepedic Surgeons: Knee Conditioning Program

British Journal of Sports Medicine: High genetic contribution to anterior cruciate ligament rupture: Heritability ~69

Lund University: Genes play a role in common knee injury

Johns Hopkins Medicine: Knee Pain and Problems

What This Means For You

Knee pain is no joke, but here experts offer tips on how to find relief.

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