How is osteoarthritis treated?
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but there is a lot that can be done to treat the pain and stiffness. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy–a range of different treatments are available to help with the pain. The physical therapist can also teach you exercises to increase the mobility of your joints and strengthen your muscles.

Simple over-the-counter painkillers (eg, aspirin [Bayer], ibuprofen [Advil], acetaminophen [Tylenol]) will usually relieve the pain of osteoarthritis. Some people find anti-inflammatory creams and gels helpful when smaller joints, close to the skin surface, eg, finger joints, are involved. Anti-inflammatory tablets are often helpful when joints flare up. There are many different types of anti-inflammatory medications and your doctor will choose one that he or she thinks is best for you as an individual. Some people may respond well to one anti-inflammatory but not to another. Removing fluid from the joint, or a joint injection can sometimes be very effective in relieving pain and inflammation. If one of your hips or knees is very badly damaged and is causing you a lot of pain, hip or knee replacement surgery will very often alleviate the pain and help you walk comfortably again. These operations are now common and usually have good results.

Self-help measures
If you are overweight and you have osteoarthritis in a weight-bearing joint such as your hip or knee you should try to lose weight. This will help to reduce the pressure on your joints and avoid further damage. Exercise is important to keep your joints flexible and to keep the muscles strong. Exercises that put less strain on joints, such as swimming and cycling, are particularly helpful. Exercising in warm water is also effective, either in a heated swimming pool or at home in a warm bath. A physical therapist will be able to advise you about the right exercises, but be careful not to overdo it or strain your joints.

  • If you are overweight ask your doctor about a weight-reducing diet
  • Once you reach your ideal weight, try to maintain it
  • Exercise regularly such as swimming or walking

Further information
Arthritis Foundation: www.arthritis.org

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease: www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Osteoarthritis

Last Reviewed: June 2013