This article reviews topical management strategies for degenerative osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. A search of Pubmed, Embase and the Cochrane library using MeSH terms including “topical,” “treatment,” “knee” and “osteoarthritis” was carried out. Original research and review articles on the effectiveness and safety, recommendations from international published guidelines and acceptability studies of topical preparations were included. Current topical treatments included for the management of knee OA include topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, capsaicin, salicylates and physical treatments such as hot or cold therapy. Current treatment guidelines recommend topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as an alternative and even first-line therapy for OA management, especially among elderly patients. Guidelines on other topical treatments vary, from recommendations against their use, to in favor as alternative or simultaneous therapy, especially for patients with contraindications to other analgesics. Although often well-tolerated and preferred by many patients, clinical care still lags in the adoption of topical treatments. Aspects of efficacy, safety and patient quality of life data require further research.