Osteoarthritis Pain Management Strategies


Osteoarthritis (OA) is an agonizing and progressive disorder of the joints that causes fatigue, stiffness, anxiety, and depression. People who suffer from this condition struggle with normal activities that can lead to a reduced quality of life. However, with osteoarthritis pain management, it’s possible to treat associated symptoms and minimize the impact on everyday life.

What is the cause of osteoarthritis pain?

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint but typically affects those joints that are most active and take the most weight. With healthy joints, cartilage protects the surface of the bones so they can move comfortably against each other. Osteoarthritis develops when the cartilage gets thin and weakens, causing the bone surface to become rough and movement is rigid.

When cartilage is damaged, the joint tissue goes into a repair mode that can alter the joint’s structure of the joint. These changes cause pain and swelling and difficulty with mobility. Sometimes additional bone growths occur that aggravate symptoms and appearance.

What is the role of pain management in osteoarthritis treatment?

The way osteoarthritis advances are different for each individual. Although it’s not a given that symptoms will worsen, people generally need ongoing pain management to cope with daily activities and maintain function.

Under professional care, patients are properly assessed taking into account any existing comorbidities, overall health, and lifestyle habits. With a correct diagnosis that includes evaluating the severity and locality of the pain, patient-specific goals can be set for treatment goals.

How to manage osteoarthritis pain?

Reducing pain is fundamental to managing osteoarthritis and there are several different treatments available. Each person responds differently but with the correct pain management guidance, patients will receive the best recommendations suited to their needs.


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are effective as oral and topical medications. They work by inhibiting enzymes that trigger symptoms of pain and swelling. Topical remedies can be used for a longer period compared to oral medicines as they have fewer side effects. Long-term use of oral NSAIDs can increase the risk of other conditions such as stomach ulcers and stroke. Thus, it is important to discuss the use of NSAIDs with a medical practitioner.

Nonpharmacologic therapies

These therapies are generally safe and less invasive but effectiveness may differ from patient to patient. Nonpharmacologic remedies include heat therapy to increase the blood circulation to localized areas and cold therapy that decreases the blood flow to reduce inflammation and nerve activity. Electrotherapy and ultrasound machine by USC Ultrasound are techniques that rebuild joint cartilage and offer symptom relief but should not be overused as they can cause skin rash and irritation. Acupuncture and hydrotherapy are widely used to decrease pain and swelling.

Physical or occupational therapy

Osteoarthritis sufferers have stiff joints and therefore avoid movement that aggravates the pain. However, this approach only makes the stiffness and pain worse. Physical and occupational therapies are carried out by licensed practitioners who can assess, diagnose, and offer treatments to prevent further immobility and symptoms that affect daily functioning. The focus is to increase the body’s capacity to engage in and restore movement, increase strength to support joints, and maintain fitness.

Splints or joints assistive aids

A variety of splints and braces can be used to help support painful joints, especially where osteoarthritis affects joint alignment such as the knee, wrist, and ankle. Splints and braces also enhance stability and reduce pressure and swelling. Different aids are used depending on where the osteoarthritis is occurring and a physiotherapist or occupational therapist can evaluate which apparatus is the most appropriate based on the patient’s condition.

Patient education and support

Osteoarthritis symptoms can be incapacitating causing patients to feel frustrated, helpless, and depressed. Feeling this way can be demotivating making it difficult to persevere with treatment. However, by learning more about the condition, its symptoms, and available treatments and support, patients can discover better-coping strategies. Research shows that psychosocial support can be as effective as drug therapy in reducing symptoms.

Weight loss

Being overweight or obese can make symptoms worse because excess weight adds more pressure on the joints and therefore increases painful symptoms. Fat is an active tissue that also emits chemicals that amplify inflammation throughout the body. By achieving a healthy weight, patients will reduce pressure, ease discomfort, improve joint function, reduce inflammation, and enhance overall health.


Surgery is reserved for more severe cases of osteoarthritis. There are different procedures available and some have limited uses or do not have lasting effects. Depending on the surgery technique, patients can have rough surfaces smoothed out, remove damaged cartilage, fuse joints, or have a joint replacement. Regardless of the procedure, it is not a substitute for a healthy weight and diet or gentle exercise. Surgery also requires post-care and rehabilitation.

Managing osteoarthritis pain in the older population

Osteoarthritis in elderly patients is the primary cause of disability and functional decline. Conservative measures are needed when treating older people because there is an increased risk of comorbidities, side effects, and medication toxicity. While the chances of getting osteoarthritis increase, it is not considered to be part of the natural aging process.

Looking after your joints, getting sufficient exercise, and eating a well-balanced diet go a long way in helping to minimize risks and associated symptoms. Older people should discuss therapies with a doctor to ensure they receive safe treatments. NSAIDs in particular should be limited in the elderly.

Why is it essential to contact therapists, doctors to manage OA pain successfully?

Osteoarthritis pain is not something people have to deal with on their own. Doctors, osteoarthritis specialists, occupational and physical therapists, and other health practitioners are trained to help patients better manage their condition.

Medical practitioners can confirm the diagnosis to ensure there is not another underlying condition that should be treated. The right diagnosis lets you get the right treatment that’s effective and without adverse side effects. With expert pain management, self-motivation, and help from specialist support coordination, patients can safely improve their quality of life.

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