Health & Fitness

Osteoarthritis: The Most Common Form of Painful Arthritis

OsteoarthritisWhen joint cartilage wears away, bone rubs against bone, causing osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis seriously impairs the quality of life for nearly 27 million Americans. Given that osteoarthritis is so disabling, painful, and common, lots of quack “cures” are out there, from shark cartilage to copper jewelry to snake venom. There are natural remedies that research suggests may actually help ease arthritis pain.

Weight loss

Maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight if necessary can be your best friend. Every pound you lose means 4 pounds less pressure on your knees. Some people will see their symptoms disappear if they lose 10 to 20 pounds, so says Roy Altman, MD, a rheumatologist and professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.


Physical activity is absolutely essential for people with osteoarthritis, whether it means walking around your apartment if you’re in fragile health and home bound or swimming laps if you’re in better shape.

People used to think that exercise made arthritis worse; the opposite is true. This is true unless you’re pounding the pavement. Runners with knee osteoarthritis should cut down on mileage, try to cross-train, and run on softer surfaces like tracks and dirt paths. Exercise programs should include both aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, or biking) and strengthening exercises (isometric and isotonic exercises).

Try low-impact exercise; a substitute for jogging might be an elliptical machine, and the resistance provided by swimming could also give you the cardio and toning you crave with less harm to joints. You could also try Yoga for strength, and flexibility.


Rest is often the best medicine, and if you’re not giving your body ample time to heal by resting up, your joint pain could certainly get worse or simply last indefinitely. If you’ve been seriously sleep deprived for a while, take control of your health and make sure to get your eight straight each night. As a bonus you’ll probably notice that your mood improves, you regain mental focus, and you feel better physically all around.

Heat Treatments

Heat will loosen stiff joints; it increases blood flow, and potentially speeds healing.


Many people find that acupuncture can relieve some pain and disability; several studies have found benefit from the procedure.

The caution here is that any program you devise should be developed in consultation with your physician and your own research.


There is some evidence that suggests that glucosamine alleviates arthritis pain, but the type of glucosamine matters. There is a fair amount of data that glucosamine sulfate is beneficial, but glucosamine hydrochloride is not. Almost all of the products that are sold here in the United States are glucosamine hydrochloride. Currently there are no trials demonstrating that glucosamine hydrochloride benefits people.


Early research found that this supplement was promising when combined with glucosamine. Although some studies suggest that chondroitin sulfate slows arthritis progression, it hasn’t really been shown to help symptoms.

Topical Remedies

Strong-smelling mentholated rubs and creams may make your skin tingle, but have limited. Diclofenac gel, sold in the U.S. as Voltaren Gel or Pennsaid by prescription is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that can ease pain in the knees, ankles, feet, elbows, wrists, and hands. It hasn’t been evaluated for use in the spine, hip, or shoulder.

Capsaicin Cream

Capsaicin cream can relieve osteoarthritis pain, and it’s available without a prescription. It’s made from the substance that gives chili peppers their heat. It is theorized that the cream relieves pain by depleting the nerve ending of pain-impulse-transmitting chemicals known as “substance P” and calcitonin gene-related protein, Dr. Altman says.


Electrical energy can be used to help ease pain and swelling in arthritic joints in a couple of different ways. Physical therapists often employ transcutaneous electrostimulation, or TENS, which involves placing electrodes around the affected joint and delivering electromagnetic pulses through the skin.

There’s some evidence that this approach can help provide at least short-term pain relief and also ease joint stiffness.

Physical Therapy

In limited situations physical therapy can be helpful. A person who is frail, so weak that he or she has trouble getting out of a chair can benefit from physical therapy, and possibly even have PT administered at home. The therapist should be experienced in treating osteoarthritis.

Assistive Devices

Shoe inserts, canes, splints, braces, and other devices that can help redistribute your weight to take the load off an arthritic joint or hip can be very beneficial.


It’s not a therapy, but learning more about arthritis is a very powerful weapon. It’s crucial that you understand and know what your limits are—and aren’t. Medicine is changing rapidly so it is crucial to stay current, continue to research this topic. Your physician is there to support you and is part of your team, you are the team leader.

You also need to find a doctor, whether it’s your primary-care physician, an internist, or a rheumatologist (a specialist in diseases of the joints), who can take the time to work with you to develop an exercise plan and answer your questions.

Additional Information Sources

Arthritis Foundation

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Mayo Clinic…Arthritis: Treatments and Drugs

WebMD…Arthritis Health Center

The caution here is that any program you devise should be developed in consultation with your physician and your own research.


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