If you have osteoarthritis, surgery is rarely a first resort. There are plenty of things you can do to avoid (or at least postpone) heading into the operating room. Take care of your knees with these solutions.

No-brainers:

Weight loss. For many, weight loss is a basic but crucial way to help avoid knee surgery. Shedding just 15 pounds can cut knee pain in half, according to a recent study presented at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual scientific meeting. And should you need arthritis knee surgery later, you’ll decrease your risk of complications and reduce strain on your knees, which will make your rehabilitation go more smoothly. 

Physical activity. The health of your knees depends on movement. Strong muscles support the joint and relieve pressure. Movement keeps tissues within the joint flexible, lubricated and replenished with nutrients that help healing. If you end up having knee surgery, the rehab will be easier if you start strengthening muscles before surgery. Walking is a great way to keep your knees healthy and pain free. Learn more about why exercise is so important if you have arthritis and hope to avoid knee surgery, and get some great ideas for maintaining motivation, stretching, safe moves and more.

No (or very few) side effects:

Braces. Prescribed by a doctor and fitted by a physical therapist, braces can improve the alignment of the knee, relieving pain.

Corticosteroid injections into the knee joint help to reduce inflammation, which can alleviate pain without causing side effects associated with oral corticosteroids.

Electrical stimulation may reduce pain by strengthening the quadriceps (the large muscles on the front of the thigh that help stabilize the knee joint), or it may even encourage regeneration of cartilage cells.

Hyaluronic acid injections, which supplement a naturally occurring lubricant lacking in the joints of people with osteoarthritis, may decrease pain and increase function for some people and help delay arthritis knee surgery.

Botox injections have been shown to relieve severe knee osteoarthritis pain and buy time before knee surgery.

You’ll likely take one:

Over-the-counter medications, such as the analgesic acetaminophen (Tylenol) and the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), ease pain. But several recent studies indicate that some NSAIDs may delay healing of connective tissues such as cartilage or tendons.

Prescription medications are available to ease pain and decrease inflammation. Whether they improve tissues in the joint continues to be investigated.

Dietary supplements. The National Institutes of Health is funding a study to see whether the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin helps repair cartilage. The duo has been shown to reduce pain in people with moderate-to-severe knee pain – those who need it most.