Other Treatments for Osteoarthritis

Other Treatments

OA problems vary from person to person. What works for one person may not work for someone else. It may take some time to find the best treatment methods.

Some options that may help ease symptoms and improve function are:

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

With TENS, a doctor or a physical therapist puts electrode patches on the skin. The patches connect the person to a small machine. This machine sends painless electrical signals through the skin to the nerves. TENS may help with pain and improve function in people with knee OA.

Heat and Cold

Heat and cold may ease pain and inflammation. One may work better than other. It depends on the person.

Heat helps blood and fluid circulate. This can make the joint feel less stiff. Warm soaks, whirlpools, paraffin wax, or heating pads can be very soothing. Each method has its own safety steps.

Cold can help ease inflammation. Put an ice pack on the joint for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Do this several times each day. Put a towel between the ice pack and your skin.

Assistive Devices and Splints

Using assisted devices may help with function. It may also ease stress on joints. Options will depend on the joints that are affected. Here are some:

  • A cane, walker, or crutches may help hip or knee OA. They spread body weight to the less affected joints.
  • Splints or braces help align joints and spread body weight.
  • Orthotic shoe inserts or special shoes may provide some relief while doing daily activities or exercising.

Certain daily activities can become hard to do. Examples are buttoning or zipping clothes, opening jars, or opening doors. Special tools can help. An occupational therapist can help a person choose these tools and provide training on how to use them to adapt.

Alternative Treatments

Some people have found success adding alternative therapies into their lives. They find they are helpful when used along with traditional therapies.

Some therapies that have shown some benefit are:

  • Acupuncture —uses tiny needles in targeted body points to ease pain
  • Balneotherapy —use of hot and cold baths
  • Relaxation therapy —techniques used to lower stress
  • Massage therapy —touch-based therapy to relax the mind and muscles
  • Yoga —use of poses and breathing methods to increase flexibility and ease stress
  • Tai chi —martial art form that uses dance-like moves to increase physical endurance and promote emotional well-being

References:

Daste C, Kirren Q, et al. Physical activity for osteoarthritis: Efficiency and review of recommendations. Joint Bone Spine 2021;88 (6).
Lee MS, Pittler MH, et al. Tai Chi for osteoarthritis: a systematic review. Clin Rheumatol. 2008;27:211-218.
Osteoarthritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/osteoarthritis. Accessed August 24, 2021.
Osteoarthritis (OA) of the hip. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/osteoarthritis-oa-of-the-hip. Accessed August 24, 2021.
Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/osteoarthritis-oa-of-the-knee. Accessed August 24, 2021.
Wang C, Schmid CH, et al. Comparative Effectiveness of Tai chi, versus Physical Therapy for knee osteoarthritis: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2016;165(2): 77-86.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT
Last Updated: 8/24/2021

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