National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
How Is Osteoarthritis Treated? continued...
Because most medicines used to treat osteoarthritis have side
effects, it’s important to learn as much as possible about the medications you
take, even the ones available without a prescription. Certain health problems
and lifestyle habits can increase the risk of side effects from NSAIDs. These
include a history of peptic ulcers or digestive tract bleeding, use of oral
corticosteroids or anticoagulants (blood thinners), smoking, and alcohol
There are measures you can take to help reduce the risk of side
effects associated with NSAIDs. These include taking medications with food and
avoiding stomach irritants such as alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. In some
cases, it may help to take another medication along with an NSAID to coat the
stomach or block stomach acids. While these measures may help, they are not
always completely effective.
Questions To Ask Your Doctor or Pharmacist
- How often should I take this medicine?
- Should I take this medicine with food or between meals?
- What side effects might occur?
- Should I take this medicine with the other prescription medicines I
- Is this medication safe considering other medical conditions I have?
For many people, surgery helps relieve the pain and disability
of osteoarthritis. Surgery may be performed to achieve one or more of the
- removal of loose pieces of bone and cartilage from the joint if they are
causing symptoms of buckling or locking
- repositioning of bones
- resurfacing (smoothing out) of bones.
Surgeons may replace affected joints with artificial joints
called prostheses. These joints can be made from metal alloys, high-density
plastic, and ceramic material. Some prostheses are joined to bone surfaces with
special cements. Others have porous surfaces and rely on the growth of bone
into that surface (a process called biologic fixation) to hold them in place.
Artificial joints can last 10 to 15 years or longer. Surgeons choose the design
and components of prostheses according to their patient’s weight, sex, age,
activity level, and other medical conditions.
The decision to use surgery depends on several factors,
including the patient’s age, occupation, level of disability, pain intensity,
and the degree to which arthritis interferes with his or her lifestyle. After
surgery and rehabilitation, the patient usually feels less pain and swelling,
and can move more easily.
Complementary and alternative therapies
When conventional medical treatment doesn’t provide sufficient
pain relief, people are more likely to try complementary and alternative
therapies. The following are some alternative therapies used to treat
Acupuncture: Some people have found pain
relief using acupuncture, a practice in which fine needles are inserted by a
licensed acupuncture therapist at specific points on the skin. Preliminary
research shows that acupuncture may be a useful component in an osteoarthritis
treatment plan for some patients. Scientists think the needles stimulate the
release of natural, pain-relieving chemicals produced by the nervous
Folk remedies: These include wearing copper
bracelets, drinking herbal teas, taking mud baths, and rubbing WD-40 on joints
to “lubricate” them. While these practices may or may not be harmful, no
scientific research to date shows that they are helpful in treating
osteoarthritis. They can also be expensive, and using them may cause people to
delay or even abandon useful medical treatment.
Nutritional supplements: Nutrients such as
glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been reported to improve the symptoms
of people with osteoarthritis, as have certain vitamins. Additional studies
have been carried out to further evaluate these claims. (See Current