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occurs when cartilage (tissue that cushions a joint) wears away slowly and causes the bones to rub together. Osteoarthritis (OA) is a long-term condition that often affects the hands, neck, lower back, knees, and hips. OA is also called arthrosis or degenerative joint disease.

Common signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Joint pain that gets worse when you move the joint
  • Joint stiffness that decreases after you move the joint
  • Decreased range of movement
  • Hard, bony enlargement on your fingers or toes
  • A grinding or cracking sound when you move your joint

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have severe pain.
  • You cannot move your joint.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • Your joint is red and tender.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Treatment for osteoarthritis

may include any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen is used to decrease pain. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Capsaicin cream may help decrease pain in your joint.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given to decrease severe pain if other medicines do not work. Take the medicine as directed. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.
  • A steroid injection may be given if your symptoms get worse.
  • Physical therapy is used to teach you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
  • Surgery may be needed if other treatments do not work.

Manage osteoarthritis

  • Stay active. Physical activity may reduce your pain and improve your ability to do daily activities. Avoid activities that cause pain. Ask your healthcare provider what type of exercise would be best for you.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. This helps decrease the strain on the joints in your back, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.
  • Use heat or ice on your joints as directed. Heat and ice help decrease pain, swelling, and muscle spasms. Use a heating pad on a low setting or take a warm bath. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel.
  • Massage the muscles around the joint to relieve pain and stiffness.
  • Use a cane, crutches, or a walker to protect and relieve pressure on your ankle, knee, and hip joints. You may also be prescribed shoe inserts to decrease pressure in your joints.
  • Wear flat or low-heeled shoes. This will help decrease pain and reduce pressure on your ankle, knee, and hip joints.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Osteoarthritis (Ambulatory Care)

Micromedex® Care Notes

Symptom checker

Symptoms and treatments

Mayo Clinic Reference