Osteoarthritis: Treatment

Don't let osteoarthritis (OA) pain get you down! If you've been diagnosed, discuss treatments with your doctor.

It can be helpful to think about these OA treatment goals:

  • Control pain and stiffness
  • Improve joint function
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Achieve a healthy and independent lifestyle

Treatment can ease the pain and stiffness you feel and (maybe even more importantly!) help prevent future damage to your joints.

Lifestyle changes. Carrying excess weight is associated with an increase in OA pain and stiffness. Performing repetitive movements on the job or in sports also can lead to joint damage and pain.

You can decrease your OA symptoms by learning how to adjust your diet for weight loss, exercise within the limits of your condition, build rest and stress relief into your days, and make adjustments in how you work or play.

Don't underestimate the power of making small changes to your routine. It can be amazing to see how much the right lifestyle adjustments can improve how you feel.

Medication. Most OA medications are used to relieve pain. If your arthritis is mild, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter medicine, such as acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). For those with more intense pain, Cox-2 inhibitors are a form of NSAID that are available by prescription.

Over-the-counter topical pain-relief creams, rubs and sprays also can provide temporary relief from symptoms. If your pain is more severe, your doctor can prescribe stronger pain relievers or mild narcotic painkillers.

Injections. If you've been suffering with pain for a while, your doctor may decide to inject a corticosteroid right into your painful joint. Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory hormones that temporarily relieve pain. While helpful, these injections are not a permanent solution to pain problems.

Surgeries or procedures. If lifestyle measures and medications or injections fail to give you adequate symptom relief, surgery may be your best option.

  • Arthroscopy. A procedure where a surgeon inserts a tiny camera and a thin tube with a light at the end into your joint. He or she can then take a tissue sample, remove loose cartilage or diseased tissue, repair tears or smooth a rough surface.
  • Joint replacement. Severely damaged joints can be reconstructed or replaced. New joints typically last 20 to 30 years and can help people avoid having to use a wheelchair. Patients over age 50 are usually candidates for this surgery.
  • Osteotomy. This procedure increases stability by redistributing the weight on the joint. It's most often used for patients with OA in one hip or knee who are too young to consider joint replacement.
  • Viscosupplementation. An orthopedic surgeon can inject hyaluronic acid into arthritic knee joints to help improve mobility.

Routine management or monitoring. It's normal for your doctor to try a variety of strategies to improve your OA symptoms. Your OA needs to be monitored regularly so your doctor can see how well your treatment is working.

Regular checkups are your opportunity to voice your concerns about medications or symptom changes. Your doctor may want to order new lab tests to assess how the disease is progressing in your body. He or she may also be able to give you great advice to make your life easier—such as information on local support groups or tips on assistive devices like jar grippers or bathtub rails.

If your doctor prescribes medication or advises lifestyle changes as part of your treatment plan, it is important that you follow his or her instructions. Just do it! Take your medications regularly and be sure to report promptly any side effects you may experience.