Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis, is the most common form of arthritis. It occurs when cartilage in your joints wears down over time. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in your body, although it is most commonly affects the hands, hips, knees and spine. It typically affects just one joint, though in some cases several joints can be affected, such as with finger arthritis.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis and it gradually worsens with time, but treatments can relieve pain and help you remain active. Actively managing your osteoarthritis may help you gain control over your osteoarthritis pain.
For mild osteoarthritis pain that is bothersome, but not enough to have a great impact on your daily activities, your doctor may recommend the following:
Rest. If you are experiencing pain or inflammation in your joint, rest it for 12 to 24 hours. Find activities that don't require you to use your joint repetitively. Take a 10-minute break every hour.
Exercise. With your doctor's approval, exercise regularly when you feel up to it. Stick to gentle exercises, such as walking, biking or swimming. Exercise can increase your endurance and strengthen the muscles around your joint, making your joint more stable. Avoid exercising tender, injured or swollen joints. Stop if you feel new joint pain. New pain that lasts more than two hours after you exercise probably means you have overdone it.
Weight loss. Being overweight or obese increases the stress on your weight-bearing joints, such as on your knees and your hips. Even a small amount of weight loss can relieve some pressure and reduce your pain. Talk to your doctor about healthy ways to lose weight. Most people combine changes in their diet with increased exercise.
Heat and cold. Both heat and cold can relieve pain in your joint. Heat relieves stiffness and cold relieves muscle spasms. Use a heating pad, hot water bottle, or a warm bath. Heat should be warm, not hot. Apply heat for 20 minutes several times a day. Cool the pain in your joint with cold treatments, such as with ice packs. You can use cold treatments several times a day, but don't use cold treatments if you have poor circulation or numbness.
Physical therapy. Ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist. A physical therapist can work with you to create an individualized exercise plan that will strengthen the muscles around your joint, increase your range of motion in your joint and reduce your pain.
Occupational therapy. Find ways to manage daily tasks without stressing your joints. Speak with an occupational therapist for help managing tasks or work without putting extra stress on your already painful joint.
Pain creams. Over-the-counter pain creams and gels available at the drugstore 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. Read the label so you know what you are using. Pain creams work best on joints that are close the surface of your skin, such as your knees and fingers.
Braces or shoe inserts. Consider trying special splints, braces, shoe inserts or other medical devices that can help reduce your pain and immobilize or support your joint to help you keep pressure off it.
Chronic pain class. Ask your doctor about classes in your area, or check with the Arthritis Foundation, to find classes that help people with osteoarthritis or chronic pain. These classes teach skills to help manage your osteoarthritis pain. You'll meet other people with osteoarthritis and learn their tips for reducing joint pain or coping with your pain.