Friday May. 12, 2023
Physiotherapist working with an elderly patient doing mobility and functionality exercises with his left knee as he lies in an examination couch
Managing Osteoarthritis Pain: Lifestyle Changes, Medications, Surgery

8 Minute Read

Reviewed By: Dr. Jason Walters

Osteoarthritis is a common chronic condition that affects the joints of many people. Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, happens when the cartilage in your joints starts to break down and can't keep your bones from rubbing against each other. This causes pain, swelling, and reduced mobility in affected areas such as the hands, neck, lower back, knees, and hips. There are ways to deal with osteoarthritis symptoms and keep your joints from getting worse. In this article, we will discuss how you can best manage your osteoarthritis through lifestyle modifications like diet changes and exercise regimens, as well as medical treatments such as medications or surgery if needed.

Signs and Symptoms

Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition, which means that its symptoms can be mild to severe and last for a long time. The most common signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include joint pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion, tenderness in the joint area, swelling around the joints, and grinding or cracking sensations when moving the affected joint. As the disease progresses, some people may experience muscle weakness in the area near the affected joint. In the worst cases, the joint may have visible deformities like bumps or hollows.

The pain associated with osteoarthritis typically develops slowly over time and can interfere with everyday activities such as walking, climbing stairs, and lifting objects. It is important to see a doctor if you experience persistent pain in any of your joints so that an accurate diagnosis can be made and treatment prescribed if necessary. Depending on how advanced your osteoarthritis is, your doctor may recommend lifestyle modifications like weight loss for those who are overweight or obese, physical therapy to help improve range of motion, or medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation and manage pain. There are also steroid injections into the joints that are hurting and, if necessary, surgery.

Weight Management 

Weight management is an important part of managing osteoarthritis. Joints are put under more stress when someone has osteoarthritis, and being overweight can make that stress even worse. This increases the risk of joint damage and pain. Weight management is key to managing osteoarthritis symptoms effectively. 

Maintaining a healthy body weight is important for keeping your bones and joints healthy. When you are overweight, your joints have to work harder in order to support you. This added load can cause the cartilage between your bones to deteriorate even faster than it would in someone of normal or healthy weight. In addition, carrying around extra weight increases the chances of developing other conditions that could contribute to joint pain, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. By maintaining a healthy weight, you can reduce the amount of stress on your joints, lower your risk of getting other conditions linked to obesity and joint pain, and make it easier to deal with your osteoarthritis symptoms. 

There are several ways that you can work towards achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight: eating nutritious meals that are lower in calories but still nutritious and full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber; exercising regularly; participating in activities such as yoga or tai chi that focus on balance and flexibility; avoiding smoking, which contributes not only to increased joint pain but also has numerous other health risks; reducing your alcohol intake; getting enough restful sleep each night; and drinking plenty of water each day to stay hydrated. All these factors play an important role in helping manage your osteoarthritis symptoms. 


In addition to making changes to your diet, your doctor may also prescribe medications to help you deal with osteoarthritis symptoms. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be given to treat osteoarthritis symptoms like swelling and inflammation for a short time. There are also steroid injections that can be used to treat osteoarthritis symptoms like pain, swelling, and stiffness. Some people with osteoarthritis can get temporary relief from pain, swelling, and stiffness from these injections. However, you should only use these if your doctor has prescribed them because they can cause side effects such as an increased risk of infection at the injection site if you use steroids for an extended period of time and weaken your immune system. 


Smiling senior couple jogging in the park

Exercising regularly is an important part of managing osteoarthritis. Exercise can help maintain and improve joint mobility, flexibility, strength, balance, and coordination. It also helps to reduce osteoarthritis-related pain, swelling, and fatigue. Also, exercise can help you control your weight, which is one of the most important ways to reduce osteoarthritis symptoms.

If you have osteoarthritis and want to start an exercise program, you should talk to your doctor or physical therapist first. They will be able to give advice on what kinds of exercises are safe for people with osteoarthritis and how to do those exercises in a way that doesn't make your symptoms worse. In general, low-impact activities such as swimming or yoga are best because they do not put too much stress on joints while still providing enough of a physical challenge to keep osteoarthritis at bay. 

In addition to low-impact activities like swimming and yoga, other beneficial exercises for osteoarthritis patients include resistance training using weights or elastic bands; aerobic activity such as walking or jogging; stretching exercises that can improve flexibility; and core strengthening that focuses on the muscles around the waist and hips. All these types of exercises should be done under the guidance of a medical professional to ensure safety during these activities.

Patients with osteoarthritis should also include rest periods in their exercise routines, since exercise can cause joint inflammation with long-term use. This break from regular activity will help reduce the inflammation that occurs in the affected joints. Also, before doing any kind of exercise, you should slowly raise your heart rate for at least five minutes to get your body ready. A good warmup helps blood flow evenly throughout the body, which reduces osteoarthritis related pain caused by changes in blood pressure in certain areas due to movement or strain created from exercising suddenly without a warmup period beforehand. Lastly, always make sure that you cool down once you finish exercising so that your muscles don’t tighten up unnecessarily after exertion. 

Getting enough exercise can help people with osteoarthritis deal with their condition better by making their joints stronger and more flexible and by reducing the pain it causes. People with osteoarthritis should talk to their doctor before starting an exercise program designed to help them manage their condition. This way, they can get advice on safety precautions and any other treatments they may need to make the most of their new exercise routine and stay mobile even though they have osteoarthritis.

Pain Management

Pain management is an important part of managing osteoarthritis. Many people with osteoarthritis have pain that doesn't go away. This can make it hard for them to do daily things and lower their quality of life. Fortunately, there are several ways to help manage and reduce osteoarthritis-related pain. 

Medications are commonly used to help manage osteoarthritis pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are typically the first line of treatment for osteoarthritis pain because they can quickly reduce inflammation and swelling, as well as provide relief from pain. NSAIDs can be taken by mouth or put on the skin, depending on how bad your symptoms are and where they are. If over the counter NSAIDs aren’t providing enough relief, your doctor may prescribe a stronger version that requires a prescription. Commonly prescribed NSAIDs for osteoarthritis include Celebrex® and Mobic®. 

If NSAIDs don’t provide adequate relief from osteoarthritis pain, another type of medication may be necessary to manage it better. Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory medications that reduce inflammation and swelling quickly but should only be taken for short periods of time due to potential side effects such as weakened bones or an increased risk of infection. In some circumstances, doctors may also prescribe pain medications like opioids or muscle relaxants if more severe symptom management is necessary. 


Surgery can be an effective option for managing the pain and discomfort of osteoarthritis, as well as restoring joint function and mobility if other treatments such as medication, lifestyle modifications, and physical therapy have not been successful. Joint replacement surgery is the most common procedure for treating osteoarthritis, where the damaged joint surface is removed and replaced with an artificial implant designed to replicate the same level of movement that was present before the joint was affected by osteoarthritis. This type of surgery has a high success rate in those with advanced OA, providing significant improvement in pain levels and restoring some mobility back to the affected joint. 

The benefits of surgery for osteoarthritis go beyond just relieving pain. Surgery helps reduce inflammation levels, improve range of motion within joints, restore strength around joints, improve balance and coordination abilities, prevent further damage to cartilage within joints, and increase overall quality of life by allowing people with OA to once again perform activities that may have become difficult due to their condition. 

Surgery is not always necessary for those suffering from osteoarthritis; however, it can provide relief from persistent symptoms that can't be managed using other treatments such as medications or lifestyle modifications. It is important for those considering undergoing any type of surgical procedure related to OA to discuss all potential risks and benefits with their doctor so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not it’s right for them.

Key Takeaways

Osteoarthritis pain can be treated with medicines and other methods, like physical therapy and making changes to how you live. Physical therapy is often recommended for people with osteoarthritis because it helps build strength in joints affected by the disease while improving flexibility and mobility at the same time. This can help reduce the amount of stress placed on joints, which in turn reduces localized pain associated with osteoarthritis. Other lifestyle modifications, like getting more restful sleep each night or making sure you stay hydrated throughout the day, can also make a big difference when it comes to managing your osteoarthritis symptoms, including reducing joint pain. Exercise is another great way to keep your joints limber while strengthening the muscles around them so they’re less prone to injury or strain caused by everyday activities like walking or lifting things off the floor.

Managing osteoarthritis through lifestyle modifications, physical therapy, medications, and surgery can all play an important role in helping ease osteoarthritis-related symptoms, including joint pain, so those who have this condition can still enjoy life without being limited by chronic soreness or discomfort affecting their movement or quality of life overall.

Overall, it’s important to keep in mind that managing osteoarthritis involves more than just medication—lifestyle changes are equally important too! Simple steps like making a daily exercise plan that includes the right movements for managing osteoarthritis symptoms and keeping a healthy body weight by following the advice of qualified medical professionals (like registered dietitians) about how to change your diet can make all the difference. Working with qualified medical professionals who are experienced in managing osteoarthritis symptoms, along with regular exercise routines that focus on improving range-of-motion techniques designed for osteoarthritis conditions, will help make sure that osteoarthritis symptoms are controlled for the long term!

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