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National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

(continued)

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 use.

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 About Medicines

  • 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 take?
  • Is this medication safe considering other medical conditions I have?

Surgery

For many people, surgery helps relieve the pain and disability of osteoarthritis. Surgery may be performed to achieve one or more of the following:

  • 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 osteoarthritis.

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 system.

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 Research)

WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health

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