National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
How Is Osteoarthritis Treated? continued...
Some people use canes to take pressure off painful joints. They
may use splints or braces to provide extra support for joints and/or keep them
in proper position during sleep or activity. Splints should be used only for
limited periods of time because joints and muscles need to be exercised to
prevent stiffness and weakness. If you need a splint, an occupational therapist
or a doctor can help you get a properly fitted one.
If joint pain interferes with your ability to sleep or rest,
consult your doctor.
Nondrug pain relief
People with osteoarthritis may find many nondrug ways to
relieve pain. Below are some examples:
Heat and cold: Heat or cold (or a combination
of the two) can be useful for joint pain. Heat can be applied in a number of
different ways – with warm towels, hot packs, or a warm bath or shower – to
increase blood flow and ease pain and stiffness. In some cases, cold packs
(bags of ice or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel), which reduce
inflammation, can relieve pain or numb the sore area. (Check with a doctor or
physical therapist to find out if heat or cold is the best treatment.)
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
(TENS): TENS is a technique that uses a small electronic device to
direct mild electric pulses to nerve endings that lie beneath the skin in the
painful area. TENS may relieve some arthritis pain. It seems to work by
blocking pain messages to the brain and by modifying pain perception.
Massage: In this pain-relief approach, a
massage therapist will lightly stroke and/or knead the painful muscles. This
may increase blood flow and bring warmth to a stressed area. However,
arthritis-stressed joints are sensitive, so the therapist must be familiar with
the problems of the disease.
Medications to control pain
Doctors prescribe medicines to eliminate or reduce pain and to
improve functioning. Doctors consider a number of factors when choosing
medicines for their patients with osteoarthritis. These include the intensity
of pain, potential side effects of the medication, your medical history (other
health problems you have or are at risk for), and other medications you are
Because some medications can interact with one another and
certain health conditions put you at increased risk of drug side effects, it’s
important to discuss your medication, and health history with your doctor
before you start taking any new medication, and to see your doctor regularly
while you are taking medication. By working together, you and your doctor can
find the medication that best relieves your pain with the least risk of side
The following types of medicines are commonly used in treating
Acetaminophen: A medication commonly used to
relieve pain, acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol1) is available without
a prescription. It is often the first medication doctors recommend for
osteoarthritis patients because of its safety relative to some other drugs and
its effectiveness against pain.