Living with Osteoarthritis

A woman and a man in pool doing water exercises.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease and the most common type of arthritis. But it doesn’t have to keep you from leading an active life. You can help control symptoms by exercising and losing weight if you are overweight. Using special tools also helps make life easier. Be sure to see your healthcare provider for scheduled checkups and lab work. If you have questions or concerns between office visits, call your healthcare provider's office.

Make exercise part of your life

Gentle exercise can help lessen your pain. Keep the following in mind:

  • Choose exercises that improve joint motion and make your muscles stronger. Your healthcare provider or a physical therapist may suggest a few.

  • Stretching and flexibility activities such as yoga and tai chi may improve pain and joint motion.

  • Try low-impact sports, such as walking, biking, or doing exercises in a warm pool.

  • Most people should exercise for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. This can be broken up into shorter periods throughout the day.

  • Don’t push yourself too hard at first. Slowly build up over time.

  • Make sure you warm up for 5 to 10 minutes before you exercise.

  • If pain and stiffness increase, don't exercise as hard or as long.

Watch your weight

If you weigh more than you should, your weight-bearing joints are under extra pressure. This makes your symptoms worse. To reduce pain and stiffness, try losing a few of those extra pounds (kilograms). The tips below may help:

  • Start a weight-loss program with the help of your healthcare provider.

  • Ask your friends and family for support.

  • Join a weight-loss group.

Use special tools

Even simple tasks can be hard to do when your joints hurt. Special tools called assistive devices can make things easier by reducing strain and protecting your joints. Ask your healthcare provider where to find these and other helpful tools:

  • Long-handled reachers or grabbers

  • Jar openers and button threaders

  • Large grips for pencils, garden tools, and other handheld objects

Use mobility and other aids

People with arthritis and other joint problems often use mobility aids to help with walking. For example, they may use canes or walkers. They may also use splints or braces to support joints. Talk with your healthcare provider or physical therapist about these aids:

  • A cane to reduce knee or hip pain and help prevent falls

  • Splints for your wrists or other joints

  • A brace to support a weak knee joint

  • Orthotics for toe and foot involvement

Medical and surgical treatments

Discuss medical treatments with your healthcare provider to help reduce your pain and improve joint mobility. Treatments may include:

  • Topical medicines such as lidocaine, capsaicin, and diclofenac gel

  • Oral medicines such as acetaminophen, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, or opioids

  • Injections in affected joints such as corticosteroids in various joints, or hyaluronic acid in the knee joints

  • Surgical repair or surgical joint replacement with artificial joints

  • Complementary therapies such as heat and cold treatment, massage, acupuncture, supplements, cognitive training, meditation, and others. Discuss these options with your healthcare provider.

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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