Effects of osteoarthritis (OA) can vary from person to person. What works for one person may not work for someone else. Work with your doctor to find what works best for you. Some options that may help manage symptoms and improve function include:
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Glucosamine and chondroitin are found naturally in the body. Glucosamine helps the body form and fix cartilage. Chondroitin sulfate stops certain enzymes from breaking down joint cartilage. It is not known if they are helpful as pills. If you are thinking of taking them, talk with your doctor first. They may cause problems with other medicines you are taking.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
With TENS, a doctor or a physical therapist puts electrode patches on your skin. The patches connect you to a small machine. This machine sends painless electrical signals through the skin to the nerves. TENS may help with pain and improve function in people with knee OA.
Heat and Cold
Heat and cold may give you some relief. The one that works best for you may depend on your current activity and symptoms. Try one then the other to see which may work best for you.
Heat helps blood and fluid circulate. This can make the site feel less stiff. Warm soaks, whirlpools, paraffin wax, or heating pads can be very soothing. Each method has its own safety steps. Talk to your doctor and try these methods to see what is best for you.
Cold can help decrease inflammation in a joint. You can put an ice pack on for 20-30 minutes at a time. You can do this for several times each day. Put a towel between the ice pack and your skin.
Assistive Devices and Splints
Using assisted devices may help you function. It may also decrease stress on joints. Options will depend on the joints that are affected. Here are some:
- A cane, walker, or crutches may help you move better if you have hip or knee OA. They spread body weight to the less affected joints.
- Splints or braces help align joints and spread body weight.
- Orthotic shoe inserts or special shoes may provide some relief while you are doing daily activities or exercising.
Certain daily activities can become challenging. Examples are buttoning or zipping your clothing, opening jars, or opening doors. Special tools can help you keep doing these tasks yourself. An occupational therapist can help you choose these tools and train you on how to use them to adapt.
Some people have found success adding alternative therapies into their lives. They find they are helpful when used along with traditional therapies.
Alternative therapies that have shown some benefit are:
- Balneotherapy —use of hot and cold baths
- Relaxation therapy —techniques used to lower stress
- Massage therapy —touch-based therapy to relax your mind and muscles
- Yoga —use of poses and breathing methods to increase flexibility and reduce stress
- Tai chi —martial art form that uses dance-like moves to increase physical endurance and promote emotional well-being
ACR issues recommendations on therapies for osteoarthritis of the hand, hip, and knee. Am Fam Physician. 2013;87(7):515-516.
Osteoarthritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Osteoarthritis/default.asp. Updated May 30, 2016. Accessed May 30, 2018.
Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116897/Osteoarthritis-OA-of-the-knee. Updated March 15, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.
Osteoarthritis (OA) of the hip. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114846/Osteoarthritis-OA-of-the-hip. Updated March 15, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.
Sinusas, K. Osteoarthritis: Diagnosis and treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2012;85(1):49-56.
Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM Last Updated: 5/31/2018