Exercise is one of the most important treatments for people with osteoarthritis, whatever your age or level of fitness. Your physical activity should include a combination of exercises to strengthen your muscles and exercises to improve your general fitness.
If osteoarthritis causes you pain and stiffness, you may think exercise will make your symptoms worse.
However, regular exercise that keeps you active, builds up muscle and strengthens the jointsusually helps toimprove symptoms.
Exercise is also good forlosing weight, improving your posture andrelieving stress, all of which will ease symptoms.
Your GP, or possibly a physiotherapist, will discuss the benefits you can expect from your exercise programme and can give you an exercise plan to follow at home.
It's important to follow this plan because there's a risk that doing too much exercise too quickly, or doing the wrong sort of exercise, may damage your joints.
They can help plan a suitable exercise programme for you. Your GP and practice nurse can also advise about how to lose weight slowly and safely.
The main medications used are described below.
If you have pain caused by osteoarthritis, your GP may suggest taking
In addition to lifestyle changes and medication, you may also benefit from a number of supportive treatments that can help reduce your pain and make everyday tasks easier.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)uses a machine that sends electrical impulses through sticky patches,called electrodes, attached to the skin. This may help ease the pain caused by your osteoarthritis by numbing the nerve endings in your spinal cord which control pain.
Treatment with TENS is usually arranged by a physiotherapist, who can advise on the strength of the pulses and how long your treatment should last.
Applying hot or cold packs (sometimes called thermotherapy or cryotherapy) to the joints can relieve the pain and symptoms of osteoarthritis in some people. A hot-water bottle filled with either hot or cold water and applied to the affected area can be very effective in reducing pain.
Special hot and cold packs that can either be cooled in the freezer or heated in a microwave are also available, and work in a similar way.
Not using your joints can cause your muscles to waste and may increase stiffness caused by osteoarthritis. Manual therapy is a treatment provided by a physiotherapist.It uses stretching techniques to keep your joints supple and flexible.
Your GP may refer you to a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist for specialist help and advice.
If you have osteoarthritis in your lower limbs, such as your hips, knees or feet, your physiotherapist or occupational therapist may suggest special footwear or insoles for your shoes.
Footwear with shock-absorbing soles can help relieve some of the pressure on the joints of your legs as you walk. Special insoles may help spread your weight more evenly. Leg braces and supports also work in the same way.
If you have osteoarthritis in your hip or knee that affects your mobility, you may need to use a walking aid, such as a stick or cane. Hold it on the opposite side of your body to your affected leg so that it takes some of your weight.
A splint (a piece of rigid material used to provide support to a joint or bone) can also be useful if you need to rest a painful joint. Your physiotherapist can provide you with a splint and give you advice on how to use it correctly.
If your hands are affected by osteoarthritis, you may also need assistance with hand-operated tasks, such as turning on a tap. Special devices, such as tap turners, can make performing these tasks far more manageable. Your occupational therapist can give you help and advice about using assistive devices in your home or workplace.
Want to know more?
Surgery for osteoarthritis is only needed in a small number of cases where other treatments haven't been effective or where one of your joints is severely damaged.
If you need surgery for osteoarthritis, your GP will refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon. Having surgery for osteoarthritis may greatly improve your symptoms, mobility and quality of life.
However, surgery can't be guaranteed to get rid of your symptoms altogether, and you may still experience pain and stiffness from your condition.
There are several different types of surgery for osteoarthritis. Some of the main types of surgery carried out are described below.
Joint replacement therapy, also known as an arthroplasty, is most commonly carried out to replace hip and knee joints.
During an arthroplasty, your surgeon will remove your affected joint and replace it with an artificial joint (prosthesis) made of special plastics and metal. An artificial joint can last for up to 20 years, although it may eventually need to be replaced.
There's also a newer type of joint replacement surgery called resurfacing. This uses only metal components and may be more suitable for younger patients. Your surgeon will discuss with you the type of surgery that would be best.
If joint replacement isn't suitable for you, your surgeon may suggest an operation known as an arthrodesis, which fuses your joint in a permanent position.
This means your joint will be stronger and much less painful, although you will no longer be able to move it.
If you have osteoarthritis in your knees but you're not suitable for knee replacement surgery, you may be able to have an operation called an osteotomy. This involves your surgeon adding or removing a small section of bone either above or below your knee joint.
This helps realign your knee so your weight is no longer focused on the damaged part of your knee. An osteotomy can relieve your symptoms of osteoarthritis, although you may still need knee replacement surgery eventually.
Want to know more?
Some people with osteoarthritis try complementary or alternative therapies such as acupuncture and aromatherapy and find them helpful.
However, there's often a lack of medical evidence to suggest they're effective and they generally aren't recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
A number of nutritional supplements have also been used to treat osteoarthritis in the past, including chondroitin and glucosamine.
Glucosamine hydrochloride hasn't been shown to have any beneficial effects, but there's evidence that glucosamine sulphate and chondroitin sulphate may help symptoms to a small degree and don't cause many side effects.
However, these supplements can be expensive and NICE recommends that they shouldn't routinely be offered on the NHS.
Rubefacients are available as gels and creams that produce a warm, reddening effect on your skin when you rub them in. Several rubefacients have been used to treat joint pain caused by osteoarthritis.
However, research has shown that rubefacients have little effect in improving the symptoms of osteoarthritis and NICE therefore doesn't recommend their use.
Want to know more?
Read about osteoarthritis, a condition that causes the joints to become painful and stiff. It's the most common type of arthritis in the UK.
Read about symptoms of osteoarthritis, including pain and stiffness in your joints, which can make it difficult to move the affected joints and do certain activities.
Read about treating osteoarthritis. Although there's no cure, a number of treatments are available to help relieve the symptoms