The goals of treatment for osteoarthritis (OA) are to relieve pain, maintain and improve joint mobility, and to minimize further joint damage. OA cannot be cured, but a combination of treatment alternatives can be successful at controlling pain and improving joint function. Exercise is one of the best therapies for those with OA and weight loss is important for those who are overweight. Non-drug therapies include the use of hot and cold treatments and massage.
There are also several medications available to alleviate symptoms. Acetaminophen is an over-the-counter drug that is commonly recommended for pain management. Other medications to control pain include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen; COX-2 inhibitors, such as celecoxib, which act like NSAIDs but have been shown to minimize gastric ulcer complications often seen with NSAID use; and steroids, such as cortisone, which are injected directly into the affected joint to help relieve pain.
Artificial joint fluid is sometimes injected into affected knees by an orthopedic surgeon, and joint surgery may be necessary to replace or repair damaged joints in severe cases of OA.
Many of these treatments may have associated risks and side effects. Patients should talk to their health care provider about current treatment options and weigh the benefits against the risks in their own situation. Researchers continue to examine other drugs that could be useful in preventing, slowing down, or reversing joint damage and in pain management.