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Treatment for Arthritis

How is arthritis treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. The goal of treatment is often to limit pain and inflammation, while ensuring optimal joint function. Each treatment plan designed by a doctor should be specifically tailored to the individual's type of arthritis, as well as the severity of the condition. Treatment plans often involve both short-term and long-term relief approaches, including the following:

Short-term relief

  • Medications. Short-term relief for pain and inflammation may include pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

  • Heat and cold. Pain relief may be obtained temporarily by using moist heat (warm bath or shower) or dry heat (heating pad) on the joint. Pain relief may also be obtained by placing an ice pack wrapped in a towel on the joint. Cold applications help reduce swelling, as well.

  • Joint immobilization. The use of a splint or brace can help a joint rest and protect it from further injury.

  • Massage. The light stroking and/or kneading of painful muscles may increase blood flow and bring warmth to the muscle.

  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Pain may be temporarily relieved with the use of a small TENS device that directs mild, electrical pulses to nerve endings beneath the skin in the painful joint area. TENS blocks pain messages to the brain and modifies pain perception.

  • Acupuncture. Performed by a licensed acupuncture therapist, acupuncture is the use of thin needles that are inserted at specific points in the body. Acupuncture may stimulate the release of natural, pain-relieving chemicals produced by the brain or nervous system.

  • Assistive devices. Canes, crutches, and walkers can help to keep stress off certain joints and to improve balance.

  • Adaptive equipment. Reachers and grabbers allow people to extend their reach and reduce straining. Dressing aids help people get dressed more easily.

Long-term relief

  • Medications. There are several types of medications that may be used long-term to reduce pain and symptoms, including the following:

    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. These medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, help to reduce pain and inflammation.

    • Disease-modifying antirheumatic medications. These prescription medications may affect the course of the disease, by slowing down its progress and influencing, and/or by correcting immune system abnormalities that are linked to the disease. Examples of disease-modifying antirheumatic medications include methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, (Plaquenil), sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), and chlorambucil (Leukeran).

    • Corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are medications that contain hormones to treat rheumatic diseases. These medications, such as prednisone, can be taken orally or as an injection.

  • Weight reduction. Extra weight puts more stress on weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees.

  • Exercise. Certain exercises, such as swimming, walking, low-impact aerobic exercise, and range-of-motion exercises, may help reduce joint pain and stiffness. Stretching exercises may be helpful in keeping the joints flexible.

  • Hyaluronic acid therapy. This is a joint fluid or lubricant that appears to break down in people with osteoarthritis. Doctors will inject it into a joint, usually the knee, and this may be helpful for some patients.  

  • Surgery. There are several surgical choices depending on the involved joint. Surgical options may include arthroscopy, fusion, or joint replacement.

  • Pacing yourself. To conserve energy and reduce stress on your joint(s), pacing yourself (alternating periods of activity with periods of rest) can help protect your joints and minimize symptoms of arthritis.

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