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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : What types of treatments are available for osteoarthritis?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. is associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 20 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program.

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July 01, 2011
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A:

There is no cure for osteoarthritis. But there are many treatments to improve your symptoms and how you function.

Some people with osteoarthritis can treat it without medicine. Others take medicine — or as a last resort — have surgery. For many, a combination of both approaches may work best.

Here are some of the most common treatments for osteoarthritis:

Non-medicine approaches

  • Applying heat or cold
  • Exercise (which may include physical therapy)
  • Losing excess weight
  • Acupuncture

Medications

  • Acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen or naproxen)
  • Stronger pain medicine (such as tramadol or codeine-type drugs)
  • Medicine that is put on the skin, such as capsaicin, camphor, menthol or aspirin-type drugs
  • Shots of cortisone or hyaluronate (a synthetic lubricant)
  • Glucosamine

Surgery, including joint replacement

Surgery is a last resort, but a good one if:

  • Your pain is severe
  • You can't perform daily functions
  • Other options aren't working

Surgery is invasive and it takes a long time to recover. But it has a high success rate.

How you treat your osteoarthritis depends on: the site of your osteoarthritis, your other medical problems, the medicine you're taking and your preference. Talk to your doctor. He or she can explain your options and set up a treatment plan that's best for you.

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