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Nonsurgical Treatment for Knee Cartilage Injuries

NYU Langone doctors often recommend nonsurgical options as a first-line treatment for a knee cartilage injury. These include anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, and injections into the joint, including steroids; hyaluronic acid, also known as synthetic joint fluid; and platelet-rich plasma (PRP).

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These treatments may also be an option for people who have a full-thickness tear, when the cartilage injury reaches the underlying bone, but who are not candidates for surgery because of underlying conditions.

Pain Relief Medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and meloxicam can reduce inflammation and discomfort caused by a knee cartilage injury. Acetaminophen can also help to manage pain but does not reduce inflammation. Your doctor discusses over-the-counter or prescription options with you.

Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation

Your doctor may recommend the RICE regimen—rest, ice, compression, and elevation—to treat a knee cartilage injury.

Resting your knee can help reduce the symptoms associated with the injury. Your doctor may suggest using a cane or crutches for several weeks to keep weight off your knee and to stay away from exercise, sports, or any other physical activity that may have contributed to the injury.

Wearing a compression bandage following a cartilage injury may reduce swelling. During the first few days after injuring your knee, you may reduce pain and swelling by applying ice to your knee and elevating your leg for 15 minutes, 3 times a day.

Physical Therapy

Doctors may recommend physical therapy to rebuild strength and flexibility in the injured knee. Physical therapists at NYU Langone Orthopedic Center create a personalized treatment plan to help you to return to your everyday activities.

Strengthening and stretching the leg muscles can help to restore full range of motion to the knee. Low-impact exercises such as stationary biking may reduce your level of pain and improve function to the area around the knee cartilage tear. As your knee and muscles grow stronger, your physical therapist guides you in returning to more vigorous activity.

The duration of physical therapy depends on the extent of the knee cartilage injury but may last for several weeks.

Knee Joint Injections

As part of the discussion of your treatment options for a knee cartilage injury, your doctor may recommend trying an injection in your joint. Options include a steroid injection if your knee is swollen and inflamed, or hyaluronic acid, which is a synthetic joint fluid that may provide lubrication and anti-inflammatory effects for people with small cartilage lesions.

Your doctor may suggest a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection, in which your own blood is used as a treatment to reduce inflammation and protect remaining cartilage. Platelet-rich plasma is made of blood cells called platelets, which release substances called growth factors that stimulate healing.

Our Research and Education in Knee Cartilage Injuries

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.