Don’t take meds, use exercise to reduce knee pain

Cara Konlian

By Cara Konlian, MSPT, CEO, Aquacare Physical Therapy – Berlin

Did you know studies have found that exercise reduces arthritic knee pain just as well as taking an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen?

Hip and knee osteoarthritis are some of the most common orthopedic conditions affecting middle-aged to older adults. As we age, the wear and tear on our joints can result in the breakdown of cartilage, leading to pain, swelling, and reduced mobility. 

“The breakdown of cartilage and continued use can lead to pain. Often, when we experience pain, we think the best remedy is to rest and take pain medications like ibuprofen,” says Katie Hogue, PT, DPT, clinical director of Aquacare – Berlin. “However, that rest could actually lead to decreased mobility without lessening your pain.”

Two recent studies found that exercise targeting arthritic hips and knees allowed patients to feel less pain and increase their mobility. 

Torstensen, et al, conducted a randomized trial with 189 patients with diagnosed knee osteoarthritis and a history of pain and decreased knee function were assigned to one of two groups. The high-dose exercise group of 98 patients completed 11 exercises for 70-90 minutes, three times a week. The low-dose exercise group of 91 patients completed five exercises for 20-30 minutes, three times a week.

The goal was to determine what level of exercise was the most beneficial for those with arthritic knees. Both groups benefited from the workout regimen, however the study found there was no significant benefit to high-dose exercise. 

Weng, et al, conducted a randomized study of 152 patients specifically looking at the clinical effectiveness of anti-inflammatories versus exercise on patients with hip and knee arthritis (Br J Sp Med. 2022). 

This study found no significant benefits for those taking anti-inflammatories over those using exercise, stating “exercise has similar effects on pain and function to that of oral NSAIDs and paracetamol. Given its excellent safety profile, exercise should be given more prominence in clinical care, especially in older people with comorbidity or at higher risk of adverse events related to NSAIDs and paracetamol.”

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that primarily affects the joints. It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of bones and allows smooth movement begins to break down. The most common areas of the body affected by osteoarthritis are the hips and knees.

The main causes of hip and knee pain are:

  • Age-related degeneration
  • Obesity 
  • Previous joint injuries
  • Genetic predisposition 
  • Sex: Women are more likely to develop hip and knee osteoarthritis than men.

The symptoms of hip and knee osteoarthritis can vary from mild to severe. The most common symptoms include joint pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion. Swelling and tenderness around the affected joint are also common. In advanced cases, joint deformity may occur.

Your primary care provider will do a physical examination, medical history review, and diagnostic imaging such as X-rays. These tests can help confirm the extent of joint damage and guide treatment decisions.

Once these tests are complete, you can ask for physical therapy. You can choose where you go for physical therapy. Your physical therapist can help you learn new exercises to improve your mobility and reduce your pain.

Aquacare – Berlin offers a broad range of support for arthritis, hip, and knee pain. We can work with you to show you safe movements based on your personal abilities to help strengthen muscles surrounding your painful joints, so the pressure on the joints will be lessened.

In severe cases, surgical interventions such as joint replacement may be necessary.

If you have been experiencing pain for a long time, talk to your healthcare provider about trying physical therapy to reduce your pain. We have been successful with many patients to improve their quality of life and reduce their pain.

Come to Aquacare – Berlin so we can help you get off the anti-inflammatory medication, increase your strength, and help you live the life you desire.

Cara Konlian, MSPT, is the CEO of Aquacare Physical Therapy, which celebrates 25 years of serving our communities at 11 locations in Delaware and Maryland. Aquacare – Berlin opened in the summer of 2023 and is accepting new patients for all orthopedic concerns, peripheral neuropathy, balance/vestibular, pelvic floor therapy, incontinence, and more. To make an appointment with Katie or the team at Aquacare – Berlin, call 443-513-3910 or schedule online at

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