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Osteoarthritis Health Center

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Osteoarthritis - Topic Overview

Your doctor will check that your pain is not caused by another problem. He or she will ask questions about your symptoms, such as:

  • Is the pain burning, aching, or sharp?
  • Are your joints stiff in the morning? If yes, how long does the stiffness last?
  • Do you have any joint swelling?

If your joints are tender and swollen and the muscles are weak, this will also help your doctor confirm whether you have arthritis. You may also have X-rays to check your joints for damage. Your doctor may want to do blood tests or other tests to see if there are other causes for your pain.

There are many treatments for arthritis, but what works for someone else may not help you. Work with your doctor to find what is best for you. Often a mix of things helps the most.

Your treatment may include:

  • Using pain medicine. If your pain is mild, over-the-counter pain medicines such as acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help. Commonly used NSAIDs include ibuprofen (such as Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (such as Aleve). But if these don't get rid of your pain, you may need a stronger prescription medicine. Having shots of medicine in the joint also helps some people.
  • Using heat or ice on the painful joint. Heat may help you loosen up before an activity. Ice is a good pain reliever after activity or exercise. Your doctor may give you gels or creams that you can rub on the joint to make it stop hurting.
  • Losing weight, if you're overweight. Losing weight may be one of the best things you can do for your arthritis. It helps take some of the stress off of your joints.
  • Exercising to strengthen your muscles. Having stronger thigh muscles, for example, can help reduce stress on your knees. Swimming, biking, and walking are good activities. But make sure you talk to your doctor about what kind of activity is best for you. You may also get help from a physical therapist.
  • Having surgery. If the pain in your hip or knee does not get better with treatment, you may decide to have surgery to replace the joint.
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