How Arthritis Is Treated

Sophia Delphi May 15, 2022 - 9 min read
Fact Checked

In the US, around 58 million people have some form of arthritis. For all of them, there is no definitive cure. All they can do is find ways to manage the condition, slow down its progress, and make their lives easier as much as possible. 


These treatment options include different meds and supplements, exercise, lifestyle changes, joint injections, surgery, and so on. For most people, a combination of solutions will work best. To find out more about each option, read on. We will go over everything you need to know in the sections that follow. 

Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medication

When seeking treatment options for arthritis, most people want something to help them manage their pain. The majority of healthcare providers recommend starting with OTC meds, especially for milder cases. Here are some of the most common options. 


Tylenol is a well-known medicine used to manage pain. It is mild and has fewer side effects than most other OTC options. However, it cannot help with inflammation. If your pain stems from that, you will be better off with another option. 


When it comes to Tylenol, you need to be careful not to take more than 4,000 mg per day. A higher dose can easily go from being therapeutic to toxic. It is best to ask your pharmacist or doctor about a preferred dose for your age and weight. That way, you will ensure you won’t take too much of it. 

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs include meds such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. As their name suggests, their main purpose is to ward off any inflammation. However, you can also use them for pain relief. 


Dosing is important with NSAIDs as well, so you should make sure you don’t take more than the recommended daily dose for adults. In addition, you need to be careful if you are already taking some other meds with the same active ingredients. As always, it is best that you consult your doctor and make a treatment plan with their help. 

Topical Skin Creams

Topicals are another option. They are quite easy to use, and they often offer instant pain relief. Some of them can also contain NSAIDs, which is the best option if your joints are inflamed. Most topicals should not be used for more than two weeks at a time, so consult your physician about what you should do in-between. 

Prescription Meds

For more advanced arthritis, you will probably get a prescription or two when you first visit your doctor. Here are some things that you can expect. 

NSAIDs/COX-2 Inhibitors

The only difference between these NSAIDs and the ones you can get without a prescription is their strength. These are quite strong, and they can help with severe pain and inflammation. 


These meds work by blocking the activity of an enzyme called COX, which regulates the formation and maintenance of healthy tissue. As such, the meds manage to reduce inflammation and pain quite effectively. 


However, you cannot take these meds for too long. If you do, you risk suffering quite a few side effects, including ulcers, digestion problems, and nausea. Moreover, you also increase the risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke. That is why it is pivotal that you follow your doctor’s instructions closely when taking the meds. 


Here are the most commonly prescribed meds from this particular group: 


  • Indocin (indomethacin)
  • Dolobid (diflunisal)
  • Feldene (piroxicam)
  • Mobic (meloxicam)

Analgesics (Pain Meds)

Analgesics are meds that focus on relieving your pain only, without having any effect on inflammation. Your doctor will most likely prescribe a drug that contains Acetaminophen, as that is the most common and effective choice. 


Using these meds for a prolonged time can cause drowsiness, indigestion nausea, headaches, shallow breathing, and even euphoria. Most importantly, you need to remember that such meds are extremely addictive. That is why you should never take them for too long. As with all other meds, following your doctor’s orders is pivotal. 


If you have arthritis that manifests through inflammation and severe swelling, your doctor will most likely prescribe corticosteroids. The most common examples include Decadron (dexamethasone), Deltasone (prednisone), and Cortef (hydrocortisone). 


Corticosteroids are, perhaps, the most dangerous meds if you take them for a long time. They are often prescribed in high doses over a short period, and should not be used otherwise. For example, if your doctor prescribes corticosteroid injections, you will not get more than three for the whole year. 

Disease-Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

DMARDs are meds that help slow down the progress of the disease and the damage to your joints. They work over a long period, often needing months to be effective. Doctors prescribe these meds for arthritis types such as ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis. 

Biologic Response Modifiers (Biologics)

These meds work by giving a boost to your immune system, enabling it to fight off inflammation or infections on its own. They are given by injection, and they are the most common choice doctors go for when DMARDs are not effective. 


There are different types of biologics that your doctor can prescribe based on your symptoms. Some of them work by interfering with inflammatory activity, while others affect certain receptors in the brain. 


The main risk factors when it comes to using these meds are the possibility of developing an infection or lymphoma. Your doctor will do extensive tests to determine whether you can take the meds safely. It is essential that you follow their instructions to a T to ensure you stay safe. 

Other Meds

Certain additive treatments for gout and fibromyalgia can also be effective in treating arthritis. Your doctor will only prescribe those if everything else fails or if your specific case suggests that a combination of meds would be most helpful. 


Apart from meds, there are different surgical and specialist procedures that can also make living with arthritis more manageable. 


This procedure involves injecting gel-like substances directly into a particularly sore or damaged joint. As of right now, it is an approved procedure for knees, and it has proven to be quite effective in reducing pain and improving mobility. 

Joint Surgery

In most cases, your doctor will try to avoid sending you to surgery for as long as possible. However, if your symptoms are too severe, one of the following procedures could be helpful. 


  • Osteotomy
  • Arthroplasty
  • Joint replacement
  • Arthrodesis
  • Resection
  • Partial knee replacement


Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies

As far as lifestyle changes go, nothing will be as helpful with arthritis as regular exercise. It will keep your joints mobile and reduce pain, even if you just follow a mild exercise plan. 


When it comes to exercise, the biggest problem that most people face is finding the motivation to do it every day. After all, it is hard to get up and exercise when you are in pain or you’re fatigued. To that end, it might be best to get a training buddy or a personal trainer. They will help you be more motivated and get on track with your exercises. In no time, exercising will go from being a chore to being something you enjoy, and your symptoms will also be reduced. 


As far as diet goes, there isn’t any food that can help arthritis symptoms directly. However, you should try to eat as healthily as possible and to maintain an optimal weight that won’t be too straining on your joints. 


Another thing that you should focus on is reducing stress as much as possible. It is no secret that stress affects your health, from making your muscles tense and sore to making you anxious and tired. All of that can make your arthritis symptoms even worse. Thus, the sooner you try to eliminate at least some of your biggest stress sources, the better. 


Finally, you can also try incorporating some home therapy into your daily life. That includes using ice packs, heaters, and massagers on your sore joints. Doing so will vastly improve your quality of life and help any meds you are taking be even more effective. 

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

For those who prefer a more natural approach to treating arthritis, CAM offers many options to choose from. Before we go into them, it is essential that you know that telling your doctor about any treatment option you intend to try is a must. There are quite a few alternative treatment options that are not verified and could make things worse, which is why it is important to consult your doctor every time. 


With that out of the way, here are some verified options you can ask your doctor about and then explore. 


  • Acupuncture. Although there isn’t enough research on the effectiveness of acupuncture on arthritis patients, some say that it has helped reduce their pain significantly. That is especially true for those with knee issues. 
  • Magnets. There is no evidence that suggests that magnets can help relieve arthritis pain. However, experts are still researching electromagnetic field therapy as a viable treatment option. 
  • Massage therapy. As long as the massage therapist ensures they do not put too much pressure on the sore joints, massages can indeed be helpful. 
  • Meditation. Meditation could help patients cope with their condition better. In addition, it could help with muscle tension, which often accompanies sore joints. 
  • Yoga. Yoga is a great option for arthritis patients, as it can help relieve pain and tension. However, certain exercises might need modification so that the joints aren’t under too much pressure. 
  • Fish oil. Studies show that fish oil does have some positive effects on pain management in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. 


A Word of Caution

There are quite a few dietary supplements on the market that claim to be effective in treating arthritis. Before buying or using any of them, you must consult your doctor, as such products could interact with other meds you might be taking. In addition, they might be harmful or contain subpar ingredients that could only make matters worse. 

To Sum Up

As you have read, there are many treatment options for arthritis that can make the condition much more manageable. They include different meds, surgery, lifestyle and habit changes, and certain alternative options. 


No matter which option you go for, it is essential that you get the green light from your doctor. That way, you will know that you are truly doing the best for yourself and your body.