Lifestyle and home remedies

Lifestyle changes can make a significant difference in osteoarthritis symptoms. Other home treatments also might help. Some things to try include:

  • Exercise. Exercise can increase your endurance and strengthen the muscles around your joint, making your joint more stable. Try walking, biking or swimming. If you feel new joint pain, stop.

    New pain that lasts for hours after you exercise probably means you've overdone it but doesn't mean you have done any significant damage or that you should stop exercising. Simply resume a day or two later at a slightly lower level of intensity.

  • Lose weight. Obesity or even being somewhat overweight increases the stress on your weight-bearing joints, such as your knees and your hips. Even a small amount of weight loss can relieve some pressure and reduce your pain.

    Talk to a dietitian about healthy ways to lose weight. Most people combine changes in their diets with increased exercise.

  • Use heat and cold to manage pain. Both heat and cold can relieve pain in your joint. Heat also relieves stiffness, and cold can relieve muscle spasms and pain.
  • Capsaicin. Topical capsaicin — an active component in hot chili peppers — applied over an arthrititic joint may be an alternative for people who can't take NSAIDs. It may not be noticeably helpful unless consistently applied three to four times a day for several weeks. Be sure to wash your hands well after applying capsaicin cream.
  • Apply over-the-counter pain creams. Creams and gels available at drugstores may provide temporary relief from osteoarthritis pain. Some creams numb the pain by creating a hot or cool sensation.

    Other creams contain medications, such as aspirin-like compounds, that are absorbed into your skin. Pain creams work best on joints that are close to the surface of your skin, such as your knees and fingers.

  • Braces or shoe inserts. Your doctor may recommend shoe inserts or other devices that can help reduce pain when you stand or walk. These devices can immobilize or support your joint to help take pressure off it.
  • Knee taping. Strapping tape may help ease the pain of knee osteoarthritis. Ask a doctor or physical therapist to demonstrate how best to place the tape.
  • Use assistive devices. Assistive devices can make it easier to go about your day without stressing your painful joint. A cane may take weight off your knee or hip as you walk. Carry the cane in the hand opposite the leg that hurts.

    Gripping and grabbing tools may make it easier to work in the kitchen if you have osteoarthritis in your fingers. Your doctor or occupational therapist may have ideas about what sorts of assistive devices may be helpful to you. Catalogs and medical supply stores also may be places to look for ideas.

Coping and support

Lifestyle changes and certain treatments are key to managing pain and disability, but another major component to treatment is your own outlook on life. Your ability to cope despite pain and disability caused by osteoarthritis often determines how much of an impact osteoarthritis will have on your everyday life. Talk to your doctor if you're feeling frustrated, because he or she may have ideas about how to cope or refer you to someone who can help.