Osteoarthritis is a chronic (long-term) disease. There is no cure, but treatments are available to manage symptoms. Long-term management of the disease will include several factors:
- Managing symptoms, such as pain, stiffness and swelling
- Improving joint mobility and flexibility
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting enough of exercise
One of the most beneficial ways to manage OA is to get moving. While it may be hard to think of exercise when the joints hurt, moving is considered an important part of the treatment plan. Studies show that simple activities like walking around the neighborhood or taking a fun, easy exercise class can reduce pain and help maintain (or attain) a healthy weight.
Strengthening exercises build muscles around OA-affected joints, easing the burden on those joints and reducing pain. Range-of-motion exercise helps maintain and improve joint flexibility and reduce stiffness. Aerobic exercise helps to improve stamina and energy levels and also help to reduce excess weight. Talk to a doctor before starting an exercise program.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that everyone, including those with arthritis, get 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
Excess weight adds additional stress to weight-bearing joints, such as the hips, knees, feet and back. Losing weight can help people with OA reduce pain and limit further joint damage. The basic rule for losing weight is to eat fewer calories and increase physical activity.
Slow, gentle stretching of joints may improve flexibility, lessen stiffness and reduce pain. Exercises such as yoga and tai chi are great ways to manage stiffness.
Pain and Anti-inflammatory Medications
Medicines for osteoarthritis are available as pills, syrups, creams or lotions, or they are injected into a joint. They include:
Analgesics. These are pain relievers and include acetaminophen, opioids (narcotics) and an atypical opioid called tramadol. They are available over-the-counter or by prescription.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These are the most commonly used drugs to ease inflammation and related pain. NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and celecoxib. They are available over-the-counter or by prescription.
- Corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory medicines. They are taken by mouth or injected directly into a joint at a doctor’s office.
- Hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in joint fluid, acting as a shock absorber and lubricant. However, the acid appears to break down in people with osteoarthritis. The injections are done in a doctor’s office.
Physical and Occupational Therapy
Physical and occupational therapists can provide a range of treatment options for pain management including:
- Ways to properly use joints
- Heat and cold therapies
- Range of motion and flexibility exercises
- Assistive devices
Assistive devices can help with function and mobility. These include items, such as like scooters, canes, walkers, splints, shoe orthotics or helpful tools, such as jar openers, long-handled shoe horns or steering wheel grips. Many devices can be found at pharmacies and medical supply stores. But some items, such as custom knee braces and shoe wedges are prescribed by a doctor and are typically fitted by a physical or occupational therapist.
Natural and Alternative Therapies
Many people with OA use natural or alternative therapies to address symptoms and improve their overall well-being. These include nutritional supplements, acupuncture or acupressure, massage, relaxation techniques and hydrotherapy, among others.
Joint surgery can repair or replace severely damaged joints, especially hips or knees. A doctor will refer an eligible patient to an orthopaedic surgeon to perform the procedure.
Many studies have demonstrated that a positive outlook can boost the immune system and increase a person's ability to handle pain.