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Some swear by acupuncture -- which involves stimulating certain channels or meridians along the body with fine needles to relieve pain. One large German study showed that acupuncture, when paired with usual medical care, reduced pain and stiffness, and improved function and quality of life among people with knee OA. These improvements were immediate, and lasted for at least six months.

Surgery for OA

Despite all of these options, some people with OA may still need joint replacement surgery. How do you know if you fall into this category? “It all comes down to pain,” says Duke’s Pisetsky. “How much pain are you in due to OA?”

He asks his patients to rate their pain with a 1-10 scale of ascending pain. “Most people can live with a three, but if we can’t get them into that range with conservative therapies, joint replacement surgery may be appropriate.” During these surgeries, the damaged joint is removed and replaced with an artificial one.

Still, joint replacement surgery is not right for everyone. “Surgeons are reluctant to operate on people who are overweight or obese because it increases the risks associated with any surgery, so weight loss is still indicated,” says Pisetsky.