How to Treat Knee Pain at Home

After knee replacement surgery, there are steps you can take to treat your knee pain in addition to having outpatient rehabilitation.

Continuing your rehabilitation at home can help restore function, decrease pain, and speed up recovery. With the help and direction of a physical therapist, there’s a lot you can do yourself to manage and mitigate your pain symptoms at home.

Here are some of the options.

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Rest and Exercise

Exercise can be invaluable to reducing knee pain and returning to normal activities, but knowing when to rest is vital, too.

Generally, you should avoid sitting still for too long while you’re awake. Start with low-impact exercises like swimming, and gradually build to more active movement. Regular exercise in many cases can help reduce long-term pain.

It also helps to return to your normal routine as much as possible, although you may want to avoid heavy lifting or using stairs without a handrail until approved by a health care professional.

Ask your doctor or physical therapist for a list of approved at-home exercises following knee surgery and rehabilitation. These may include:

  • Side leg raises.
  • Single-leg lifts.
  • Hamstring stretches.
  • Quadricep stretches.

Another way to address knee pain is by maintaining a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and staying active when possible. Wearing suitable or corrective footwear, in some cases, can make a notable difference, too.

Heat and Ice

Depending on the nature of your pain, heat or ice packs can help reduce knee pain in the short term. Generally, acute pain and inflammation should be treated with ice, while heat therapy is best for muscle pain and stiffness.

These treatments may make body aches and pains more tolerable, but each should be used with caution.

Applying gentle heat through pads, packs, water bottles, or bags for no more than 20 minutes may soothe pain, but be careful to avoid scalding and burns by regularly checking on your skin. Place a towel between the item and your skin to be safe. Heat placed on a new or untreated injury may increase bleeding under the skin and should only be used if recommended by a specialist.

Ice packs made at home or purchased from a pharmacy may be useful when treating short-term knee pain. To prevent frostbite, always put a layer of cloth between the ice and your skin. Ice should only be applied for 20 minutes every two to three hours to avoid skin damage. When icing, check your skin color every few minutes to ensure it’s not pink or red.


For mild to moderate knee pain, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter painkiller for occasional relief. For severe pain, they may offer a short-term prescription painkiller.

These may include:

  • Acetaminophen: This pain reliever and fever reducer is used to treat moderate to severe pain, and it can be an effective short-term pain management tool. Overuse of products containing acetaminophen can cause liver damage and a range of other side effects; always talk to your doctor before use.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These painkillers, including ibuprofen and aspirin, are commonly found in drugstores and help with pain, swelling, and inflammation. They may also come in the form of rub-on creams. Like most painkillers, long-term use of NSAIDS carries a number of potential side effects. Talk to your doctor before use.
  • If over-the-counter medicines don’t relieve your pain, your doctor may prescribe something stronger under close supervision.

After surgery for a knee replacement or soft-tissue injury, orthopaedic surgeons can work with physical therapists from UPMC Rehabilitation Institute to build a rehabilitation program that works best for you. For more information, visit our website.

About UPMC Rehabilitation Institute

The UPMC Rehabilitation Institute offers inpatient, outpatient, and transitional rehabilitation, as well as outpatient physician services so that care is available to meet the needs of our patients at each phase of the recovery process. Renowned physiatrists from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as highly trained physical, occupational, and speech therapists, provide individualized care in 12 inpatient units within acute care hospitals and over 80 outpatient locations close to home and work.