National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
How Is Osteoarthritis Treated? continued...
Treatment Approaches to Osteoarthritis
- weight control
- rest and relief from stress on joints
- nondrug pain relief techniques
- medications to control pain
- complementary and alternative therapies
Most successful treatment programs involve a combination of
treatments tailored to the patient’s needs, lifestyle, and health. Most
programs include ways to manage pain and improve function. These can involve
exercise, weight control, rest and relief from stress on joints, pain relief
techniques, medications, surgery, and complementary and alternative therapies.
These approaches are described below.
Research shows that exercise is one of the best treatments for
osteoarthritis. Exercise can improve mood and outlook, decrease pain, increase
flexibility, strengthen the heart and improve blood flow, maintain weight, and
promote general physical fitness. Exercise is also inexpensive and, if done
correctly, has few negative side effects. The amount and form of exercise
prescribed will depend on which joints are involved, how stable the joints are,
and whether a joint replacement has already been done. Walking, swimming, and
water aerobics are a few popular types of exercise for people with
osteoarthritis. Your doctor and/or physical therapist can recommend specific
types of exercise depending on your particular situation.
On the Move: Fighting Osteoarthritis with
You can use exercises to keep strong and limber, improve
cardiovascular fitness, extend your joints’ range of motion, and reduce your
weight. The following types of exercise are part of a well-rounded arthritis
- strengthening exercises: These exercises strengthen
muscles that support joints affected by arthritis. They can be performed with
weights or with exercise bands, inexpensive devices that add resistance.
- aerobic activities: These are exercises, such as walking
or low-impact aerobics, that get your heart pumping and can keep your lungs and
circulatory system in shape.
- range-of-motion activities: These keep your joints
- agility exercises: These can help you maintain daily
Ask your doctor or physical therapist what exercises are best
for you. Ask for guidelines on exercising when a joint is sore or if swelling
is present. Also, check if you should (1) use pain-relieving drugs, such as
analgesics or anti-inflammatories (also called NSAIDs or nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs) to make exercising easier, or (2) use ice
Osteoarthritis patients who are overweight or obese should try
to lose weight. Weight loss can reduce stress on weight-bearing joints, limit
further injury, and increase mobility. A dietitian can help you develop healthy
eating habits. A healthy diet and regular exercise help reduce weight.
Rest and relief from stress on joints
Treatment plans include regularly scheduled rest. Patients must
learn to recognize the body’s signals, and know when to stop or slow down. This
will prevent the pain caused by overexertion. Although pain can make it
difficult to sleep, getting proper sleep is important for managing arthritis
pain. If you have trouble sleeping, you may find that relaxation techniques,
stress reduction, and biofeedback can help, as can timing medications to
provide maximum pain relief through the night.