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Osteoarthritis treatment requires a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. While no treatment can cure or stop the progression of the disease, several medications can help reduce the pain.
The goal of medication is to reduce or eliminate pain and keep the joints moving well, because joints that are too painful to move lead to weakened and shortened muscles and ligaments. Treatment depends on pain severity. For some people with mild pain, over the counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen is sufficient.
For more severe pain, opioids (narcotic pain medicines like codeine and hydrocodone) may be required. Some antidepressants like duloxetine can reduce pain, while steroid injections into the affected joint can reduce swelling. Pain relievers are also available. These include over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen (available by pill or applied topically to the skin), stronger prescription narcotic pain relievers and some antidepressants. Injections of cortisone directly into the affected joints can also alleviate pain and swelling, though not permanently.
Weight loss is crucial if you are overweight to reduce the stress on your joints. Studies show that being even 10 pounds overweight will increase the stress across the knee joint by 30 to 60 pounds. Physical therapy and doing low impact, moderate exercise on your own can strengthen the muscles that support the joints, though it’s important to note that excessive exercise, just like too little exercise, may worsen pain.
Hot and cold compresses may also help to temporarily reduce pain and relax muscles. If the pain and/or disability caused by osteoarthritis become severe, surgery to replace the affected joint(s) is an option.