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Osteoarthritis Treatment Overview

Find the right care and learn about different treatments.
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Care Plan


First steps to consider

  • Mild to moderate pain can be treated at home.
  • Ice, OTC pain relievers, ACE wrapping, and gentle stretching and strengthening exercises help reduce stiffness and weakness.
See home treatments

When you may need a provider

  • Pain is moderate to severe
  • Home treatments are not helping with pain after about 4–8 weeks or your pain is interfering with everyday activities.
See care providers

Emergency Care

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Go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe joint swelling, redness, and warmth
  • Severe pain when trying to move the joint
  • Unable to put weight on the affected joint

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All treatments for osteoarthritis
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Read more about osteoarthritis care options

When to see a healthcare provider

Osteoarthritis symptoms may come and go with occasional flare-ups of pain. See a healthcare provider if your symptoms do not improve after at least 2 weeks of regular home treatments like rest, bracing/ACE wrap, taking OTC pain relievers, and ice.

Other conditions can mimic osteoarthritis pain. Gout can cause pain, swelling, and warmth in a joint with stiffness and severe pain when you move the joint. The doctor may also recommend prescription medications for osteoarthritis and physical therapy.

Getting diagnosed

Osteoarthritis is often diagnosed based on your symptoms and a physical examination. It is likely your doctor will recommend X-rays to see if you have osteoarthritis and how severe it is.

What to expect from your visit

After being diagnosed with osteoarthritis, your doctor will discuss your current treatment plan. If OTC medications are not helping enough, your doctor may recommend prescription anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

  • You may be referred to physical therapy to learn stretching and strengthening exercises that can help reduce joint stiffness and improve muscle strength.
  • If your arthritis is still painful after trying prescription NSAIDs and doing physical therapy, your doctor may recommend getting a cortisone injection into the joint. This helps reduce inflammation in the area.
  • If your osteoarthritis symptoms don’t improve and the pain affects your quality of life, you may need surgery.
  • For the hip, knee, and shoulder joints, the most common procedure is joint replacement surgery. In this surgery, damaged cartilage is removed and replaced with artificial metal and plastic joint parts. Osteoarthritis in other joints, like the hands and feet, may be treated with joint fusion surgery.

Prescription osteoarthritis medications

Prescription anti-Inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include:

  • Meloxicam (Mobic)
  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)
  • Naproxen (Naprosyn)
  • Nabumetone (Relafen)
  • Voltaren (Diclofenac)

Types of providers

  • A primary care provider can treat mild to moderate symptoms.
  • An orthopedist is a specialist in diagnosing and treating diseases that affect the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons.
  • A rheumatologist is a specialist in diagnosing and treating arthritis and other diseases that affect the muscles, bones, and joints.
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