Easing the Pain of Osteoarthritis

| Posted On Sep 15, 2020 | By:

Osteoarthritis (OA), also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common chronic disease of the joints and affects more than 30 million Americans.

In normal joints, the cartilage that covers the end of each bone serves as a cushion and lubricant. In people with osteoarthritis, the cartilage wears down, causing pain, inflammation, and problems moving the joint. Although OA can affect any joint, it appears more frequently in the hips, knees, lower back, and neck. It can also affect the fingers and feet. Osteoarthritis can occur at any age, but it is most common in people older than 65.

What are the typical symptoms?

The symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary. The most common symptoms are pain and stiffness in the joints that are most pronounced first thing in the morning or after periods of inactivity (like getting up from a chair). People with OA may also experience aching in the joint after extended activity, decrease in range of motion or flexibility, mild swelling around the joint, or a grating sensation when bending a joint.

OA pain, swelling, or stiffness may make it difficult to perform ordinary daily tasks. When the lower body joints are affected, activities such as walking or climbing stairs may become difficult. When finger and hand joints are affected, osteoarthritis can make it challenging to grasp and hold objects. OA symptoms can hinder work, social life, and family life if steps are not taken to prevent joint damage, manage pain, and increase flexibility.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

To diagnose osteoarthritis, your doctor will collect information on your personal and family medical history, perform a physical examination, and order diagnostic tests. During the physical exam, the doctor will examine your joints and test the range of motion (how well each joint moves). They will look for areas that are tender, painful, or swollen, as well as signs of joint damage. The following tests may help confirm a diagnosis of OA; however, they are not always necessary as a medical history review and physical examination can diagnose OA:

What are the risk factors? 

What types of treatment are available for osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a chronic (long-term) disease. There is no cure, but there are treatment options available to help you manage your symptoms. Long-term management of the disease will include several factors:

Exercise/Physical Activity

One of the most beneficial ways to manage OA is to get moving. While it may be hard to think of exercise when a joint hurts, moving is considered an essential part of the treatment plan.

Physical and Occupational Therapy

Physical and occupational therapists can provide a range of treatment options for pain management, including ways to properly use joints, heat and cold therapies, and range of motion and flexibility exercises. They can also suggest helpful assistive devices (scooters, canes, walkers, splints, shoe orthotics, or useful tools, such as jar openers, long-handled shoehorns, or steering wheel grips).

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Excess weight adds additional stress to weight-bearing joints, such as the hips, knees, feet, and back. Losing weight can help people with OA reduce pain and limit further joint damage. The basic rule for losing weight is to eat fewer calories, eat more fruits and vegetables, and less processed food, and increase physical activity.

Pain Management with Medication

Medications for osteoarthritis are available as pills, syrups, creams, lotions, or they are injected into a joint. They include:


In cases where the pain cannot be controlled, surgery may be a consideration. Surgical options include a less invasive arthroscopy to repair the joint, or for joints that cannot be repaired, a joint replacement may be necessary.

Positive Attitude

Many studies have demonstrated that a positive outlook can boost the immune system and increase a person’s ability to handle pain.

If you suspect you may have osteoarthritis, an Atrius Health rheumatologist can assess your symptoms and help you find the best solution to manage your pain.

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