Osteoarthritis Treatment Options

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic and progressive degenerative disease that affects the knees and other joints of the body.  There is no cure for OA; however, several medical and non-medical options can be used to relieve OA symptoms and delay the need for joint replacement.

Non-medical Therapy

Excess weight is the leading cause of OA in weight bearing joints like the hips and knees. Weight loss through improved diet and exercise are the best initial non-medical therapy for OA. Exercise or physical therapy will not only improve flexibility, range of motion, and pain of affected joints, but can also greatly improve a patient’s mood.  A healthier diet is essential for weight control and reducing undue stress on affected joints.

Other alternative approaches toward dealing with OA include the application of heat and cold, massage, and the use of herbal and dietary supplements.  The safety and effectiveness of herbal and dietary supplements in regards to OA is somewhat limited.  Supplements are not regulated and should be used with caution.

Medical Therapy

In regards to the use of medication against OA pain, the first line of therapy is commonly over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory and pain relief drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol Arthritis®), aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil®), and naproxen (Aleve®).  It is important not to simply self-medicate because medicine like aspirin and ibuprofen, as well as naproxen can have deleterious side effects if taken in excess.  A doctor may prescribe other interventions including stronger anti-inflammatory drugs.  A direct injection of corticosteroids, an anti-inflammatory medication directly into the joint can also provide temporary relief of OA symptoms. Injections of hyaluronic acid substitutes into the affected joint are used to improve joint lubrication but have not been shown to be more effective than medication alone.  In more serious cases surgery might be warranted.


David J. Hunter and Felix Eckstein. (2009) Exercise and osteoarthritis. J Anat. 214, 197-207


Pubmed Health: Osteoarthritis http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001460/

NEBH: Osteoarthritis (OA) Research at New England Baptist Hospital


National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS): Osteoarthritis http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Osteoarthritis/default.asp 


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