Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

There's no known cure for osteoarthritis, but treatments can help to reduce pain and maintain joint movement.

Medications

Osteoarthritis symptoms can be relieved by a variety of medications, including:

  • Acetaminophen. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) can relieve pain, but it doesn't reduce inflammation. It has been shown to be effective for people with osteoarthritis who have mild to moderate pain. Taking more than the recommended dosage of acetaminophen can cause liver damage.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs may reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and naproxen (Aleve, others). Stronger NSAIDs are available by prescription. NSAIDs can cause stomach upset, ringing in your ears, cardiovascular problems, bleeding problems, and liver and kidney damage. Older people have the highest risk of complications.
  • Narcotics. These types of prescription medication typically contain ingredients similar to codeine and may provide relief from more severe osteoarthritis pain. These stronger medications carry a risk of dependence, though that risk is thought to be small in people who have severe pain. Side effects may include nausea, constipation and sleepiness.

Therapy

A combination approach to treatment often works best. Your doctor may suggest:

  • Physical therapy. A physical therapist can work with you to create an individualized exercise regimen that will strengthen the muscles around your joint, increase the range of motion in your joint and reduce your pain.
  • Occupational therapy. An occupational therapist can help you discover ways to do everyday tasks or do your job without putting extra stress on your already painful joint. For instance, a toothbrush with a large grip could make brushing your teeth easier if you have finger osteoarthritis. A bench in your shower could help relieve the pain of standing if you have knee osteoarthritis.
  • Braces or shoe inserts. Consider trying splints, braces, shoe inserts or other medical devices that can help reduce your pain. These devices can immobilize or support your joint to help you keep pressure off it.
  • A chronic pain class. The Arthritis Foundation and some medical centers have classes for people with osteoarthritis and chronic pain. Ask your doctor about classes in your area or check with the Arthritis Foundation. These classes teach skills that help you manage your osteoarthritis pain. And you'll meet other people with osteoarthritis and learn their tips and tricks for reducing and coping with joint pain.

Surgical and other procedures

If conservative treatments don't help, you may want to consider procedures such as:

  • Cortisone shots. Injections of corticosteroid medications may relieve pain in your joint. During this procedure your doctor numbs the area around your joint, then places a needle into the space within your joint and injects medication. The number of cortisone shots you can receive each year is limited, because the medication can worsen joint damage over time.
  • Lubrication injections. Injections of hyaluronic acid derivatives (Hyalgan, Synvisc) may offer pain relief by providing some cushioning in your knee. These agents are similar to a component normally found in your joint fluid.
  • Realigning bones. During a surgical procedure called an osteotomy, the surgeon cuts across the bone either above or below the knee to realign the leg. Osteotomy can reduce knee pain by shifting your body weight away from the worn-out part of your knee.
  • Joint replacement. In joint replacement surgery (arthroplasty), your surgeon removes your damaged joint surfaces and replaces them with plastic and metal devices called prostheses. The hip and knee joints are the most commonly replaced joints. Surgical risks include infections and blood clots. Artificial joints can wear out or come loose and may need to eventually be replaced.
Apr. 09, 2013