There’s no known cure for osteoarthritis, short of a knee or hip replacement for people with advanced disease. (See our surgery Ratings for hip and knee replacement.)
And treatments to reduce symptoms—including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil and generic) and naproxen (Aleve and generic) as well as injections of steroids—offer limited benefits and can cause side effects. So it makes sense to rely on nondrug measures when you can. Here are some of the most effective.
Weight loss. Every pound of excess weight you shed can take about 4 pounds of pressure off the knees when walking, research suggests. See our ratings and reviews of diet plans.
Physical activity. Strength training helps build up the muscles that support the affected joint. Aerobic exercise, particularly weight-bearing activities such as walking, can ease stiffness by keeping joints flexible and lubricated. But check with your doctor before starting any new workout regimen. See our ratings and reviews of ellipticals, treadmills, and pedometers.
Mechanical aids. A cane, crutch, or walker can take a load off painful knees, and insurance usually covers them if they’re medically necessary.
Heat and cold. A heating pad can ease ongoing stiffness and soreness in joints. For acute pain and swelling, switch to ice packs.
Acupuncture. Real acupuncture—the insertion of fine needles at specific points on the body—provided modest benefits over a sham procedure for chronic pain due to knee osteoarthritis and other ailments, according to a review published in the Oct. 22, 2012, issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
Massage. The deep-tissue variety got high marks in a 2010 survey of Consumer Reports online readers who tried it for osteoarthritis. Half said it “helped a lot.”