Effects of osteoarthritis (OA) can vary from person to person, which means what works for supportive care will vary as well. Work with your healthcare team to find what works best for you. Some options that may help manage symptoms and improve function include:
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Glucosamine and chondroitin are substances found naturally in the body. Glucosamine stimulates the formation and repair of cartilage. Chondroitin sulfate prevents certain enzymes from breaking down joint cartilage. Though the function of these substances in the body is clear, their benefits as a supplement is not clear and may not be helpful for most people. If you are interested in taking these supplements, talk with you doctor first. Supplements may interact with other medications.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
With TENS, a doctor or a physical therapist places electrode patches on your skin, connecting you to a small machine. This machine sends painless electrical signals through the skin to the nerves. In people with knee osteoarthritis, TENS may decrease pain and improve function.
Application of Heat and Cold
Both heat and cold may provide some relief depending on your current situation. The one that works best may depend on your current activity and symptoms. Try both to see which may work best for you.
Heat improves blood and fluid circulation to the treated area which can decrease stiffness. Applying heat via warm soaks, whirlpools, paraffin wax, or heating pads can be very soothing. Each heat application has different guidelines. Talk to your healthcare team and try different options to see what is best for you.
Cold can help decrease inflammation in an affected joint. An ice pack can be applied for 20-30 minutes at a time, several times each day with a towel between the ice pack and your skin.
Assistive Devices and Splints
Using assisted devices may improve function and decrease stress on joints. Options will depend on the joints that are effected. Some include:
- A cane, walker, or crutches may help mobility with hip or knee OA by redistributing body weight to the less affected joints.
- Splints or braces help to properly align joints and distribute weight.
- Orthotic shoe inserts or special shoes may provide some relief while you are doing daily activities or exercising.
Certain daily activities can become challenging with OA such as buttoning or zipping your clothing, opening jars, or opening doors. Special equipment is available to help with these tasks to maintain independence. An occupational therapist can help with selection of assistive devices and training to help adapt to changes.
Some people have found success incorporating alternative therapies into their lives, particularly when combined with traditional therapies.
Alternative therapies that have shown some benefit include:
- Balneotherapy—use of hot and cold baths
- Relaxation therapy—techniques used to reduce stress
- Massage therapy—touch-based therapy to relax your mind and your muscles
- Yoga—use of poses and breathing techniques to increase flexibility and reduce stress
- Tai chi—martial art form that uses dance-like moves to increase physical endurance and promote emotional well-being
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 05/2014 -
- Update Date: 12/01/2014 -