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Osteoarthritis Treatment Options

Nothing lasts forever, including your joints. Decades of running, jumping, kneeling, and climbing stairs eventually wears down their cushioning cartilage, leaving bone rubbing painfully against bone. When joint cartilage erodes, joints become stiff, swollen, and arthritic.

Although arthritis comes in many different varieties, by far the most common kind is osteoarthritis. As we get older -- and heavier -- more and more of us become vulnerable to sore, stiff, swollen joints.

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About 27 million people complain of joint pain due to osteoarthritis. If you're one of them, here's a look at some of your treatment options. Although these medications and techniques won't cure your joint problems, they can relieve your pain and get your knees, wrists, hips, and shoulders moving more like they used to again.

Simple Ways to Protect Your Joints

The size of the number on your bathroom scale could have a big effect on how you feel. Osteoarthritis is more common -- and severe -- in people who are overweight. Losing weight if you are overweight or obese and getting regular exercise are important ways to take pressure off already overburdened joints and help control pain. Here are some ways to keep a healthy weight with food and exercise, and a few other tips to help you relieve joint pain.

Diet for Osteoarthritis

Eating a healthy, low-fat diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins will help you control your weight.

Relieving Stiff Joints With Exercise

When you're in pain, the last thing you may want to do is exercise, but it's actually one of the best things you can do for your joints. Talk to your doctor about what exercises are most appropriate for you. Physical therapy is also a common part of treatment in people with OA. To see the most improvement, combine these three types of exercises into your routine: 

  • Aerobic exercises, including walking, dancing, and riding a bicycle, will keep your heart healthy and your muscles strong while controlling your weight. Swimming is an excellent aerobic exercise for people with osteoarthritis, because the buoyancy and warm water support and soothe achy joints.
  • Strength-training exercises, such as lifting weights, strengthen the muscles so they can better support the joints.
  • Stretching exercises, which increase flexibility and relieve stiff joints.

Cold and Heat

A heating pad or cold pack can feel really good on achy joints. Unless you've got an injury, in which case cold is optimal for the first couple of days, use whichever one feels better. You can apply cold or heat several times a day; just remember to cover the cold pack with a towel and keep your heating pad at a low setting to avoid burning your skin. Whether you use heat or cold, remove it after 20 to 30 minutes.

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