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National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

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How Is Osteoarthritis Treated?

Four Goals of Osteoarthritis Treatment

  • to control pain
  • to improve joint function
  • to maintain normal body weight
  • to achieve a healthy lifestyle


Treatment Approaches to Osteoarthritis

  • exercise
  • weight control
  • rest and relief from stress on joints
  • nondrug pain relief techniques
  • medications to control pain
  • surgery
  • 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.

Exercise

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 Exercise

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 treatment plan.

  • 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 limber.

  • agility exercises: These can help you maintain daily living skills.

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 afterward.

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