Whether it's your hip or your knee that's bothering you, your doctor is likely to recommend the least invasive treatment to alleviate pain and encourage healing of your condition before resorting to more aggressive measures. Reducing inflammation, relieving pain, protecting the joint from further damage, and building strength in the muscles that support the joint can often improve joint function. The following treatments are often recommended for hip or knee pain and discomfort.
RICE — which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation — is a first-aid strategy for most musculoskeletal injuries, including those involving the knees and hips. It is sometimes the only treatment you need.
Rest. Injuries need rest in order to heal. Rest doesn't always mean inactivity, however. Depending on the condition, you may need to stay off a leg entirely, cut back the distance you run or walk, switch to low-impact activities, or exercise using other parts of the body. Consider using a cane to give your injury a chance to heal. It's important to rest an injury or flare-up of pain for a few days, but long periods of inactivity can make ongoing knee and hip problems worse by decreasing flexibility and weakening the muscles that support and protect the joints.
Ice. Cold numbs pain and reduces swelling by constricting blood vessels. After surgery or injury, wrap an ice pack in a cloth and apply for 20 minutes, remove for 20 minutes, reapply for 20 minutes, and so on. To prevent frostbite, do not apply ice directly to the skin. Your source for cold can be as simple as a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel, but you can also buy easy-to-secure neoprene wraps with pockets for gel packs that you keep in the freezer. Most elaborate are electric "continuous-flow cold therapy" devices that deliver cold through pads shaped for different joints; your doctor or physical therapist may recommend such a device after surgery.
Ice helps knee injuries of all types. For hip injuries, cold can't penetrate deep into the hip joint itself, but it is still effective for hip pain stemming from problems closer to the surface, such as trochanteric bursitis.
After injury, use ice alone for 24 to 48 hours. After that, you can continue using ice, switch to heat, or alternate. Ice increases stiffness, while heat helps restore and maintain flexibility. You may find it beneficial to use warmth before stretching and other exercise, following with ice afterward to minimize swelling. You can give yourself an ice rub by freezing water in a paper cup. Peel back the paper and cover the ice end with a cloth before applying to the area.
Compression. After a knee injury, gentle pressure can reduce swelling and hasten recovery time. Wrap an injured joint in an elastic bandage, taking care that the wrap isn't so tight that the skin below the joint becomes cool or blue. Neoprene stretch knee supports provide compression and have a hole for the kneecap to prevent irritation.
Elevation. Elevating the injured area takes advantage of gravity to reduce the swelling and painful throbbing that occurs when lots of blood pools in one area. Prop your knee up on a stool with pillows to raise the height, or lie down with your knee on a pillow.
Exercising Without Stressing Your Hips and Knees
If you like to exercise regularly but need to give your hip or knee a rest while an injury heals, here are some exercises you can do in the meantime. You can combine these exercises to create a routine lasting 30 minutes or longer:
- Floor exercises, including abdominal curls, crunches, push-ups, or leg lifts
- Hand weight routines, including repeated lifting of small hand weights in different directions
- Exercise ball routines, including stretches, abdominal curls, or leg lifts
- Gentle yoga
Heat is a good way to reduce pain and stiffness in your joints and relieve muscle spasms. After an injury, wait a day or two for swelling to go down before using heat. You can use a heat pack applied directly to the joint, or warm your knees and hips in a hot tub or whirlpool or with a 15- to 20-minute soak in a regular bath. Therapists recommend a warm shower or bath before exercising to relax joints and muscles. Dress warmly afterward to prolong the benefit. Heating pads are convenient, but moist heat penetrates more deeply.
You can buy hot packs and heating pads, but a homemade hot pack works just as well. Heat a damp folded towel in a microwave oven (usually for about 10 to 60 seconds, depending on the oven and the towel's thickness) or in a conventional oven set at 300° F (for about five to 10 minutes). Wrap it in a thin towel or cloth before applying to the injured area