- Orthopedic (muscles, bones, injury)>
- Treatment Overview
Osteoarthritis Treatment Overview
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
How to manage osteoarthritis at home
Most mild to moderate osteoarthritis can be treated at home with OTC medications and lifestyle changes. It can take 2–3 weeks for osteoarthritis symptoms to start improving with at-home treatments, and 6–8 weeks to feel better. Because osteoarthritis does not go away, symptoms may come and go.
- Resting for a short period of time may help with discomfort if your joint pain is flaring up.
- Taking OTC anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil), or other pain relievers like Tylenol, may help pain and inflammation.
- Certain supplements like glucosamine/chondroitin may help relieve symptoms but studies have been mixed.
- Use ice on the joint to help reduce pain and swelling.
- Stretching and strengthening exercise can help reduce stiffness and weakness in the joint.
- Try to avoid activities or exercises that cause pain.
- Wear a brace or ACE wrap on the affected joint for support and to help reduce pain.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- Naproxen (Aleve)
- Turmeric may help reduce inflammation
Tips for treating osteoarthritis
- Apply an ice pack 3 times a day to reduce joint swelling.
- Apply an ACE wrap or brace to help stabilize the joint.
- Avoid high-impact exercise.
- Losing weight if you’re overweight reduces the pressure on your joints.
While osteoarthritis cannot be prevented, there are things you can try to help stop flare-ups of joint pain.
- Doing regular low-impact exercise can help maintain strength and mobility without aggravating the joint. Walking, swimming, and bike riding (stationary or road) are good exercises for people with osteoarthritis.
- Maintain a healthy weight to help reduce stress on joints, especially the hip, knee, and ankle joints. Every pound of body weight is equal to 3–4 pounds of joint pressure when walking and up to 6–8 pounds of pressure when climbing stairs.