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How is arthritis treated?

The treatment that a doctor will recommend for you will be based on the symptoms you have and which type of arthritis you are diagnosed with.

There is no cure for arthritis, so treatment is used to manage the pain and try to prevent the condition getting worse. Treatments can be a combination of changes to your lifestyle, medication and therapy to help keep the joints mobile.

What is the best treatment for osteoarthritis?

The doctor will be able to assess the best treatment for you based on the symptoms you have. They will review any tests, such as blood tests, and come up with a treatment plan to help you manage the pain. Osteoarthritis treatment can include:

Medication

The pain you have may need to be controlled using medications and these will be prescribed according to how bad the pain is. The most common types of pain medications used to treat osteoarthritis include:

  • Paracetamol or other painkillers - for mild pain, you can take over the counter pain medication, such as paracetamol.
  • Capsaicin cream - this is a painkiller that needs to be applied three times a day to the affected area.
  • Codeine - for pain relief.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) - if over the counter pain medication has not helped, the doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help with the inflammation in your joints.
  • Corticosteroid injections - this treatment is used for severe osteoarthritis pain relief, and is injected directly into the joint.

If your osteoarthritis is severe, or doesn’t respond to treatment, surgery may be needed, although this is quite rare. Surgeons can repair your joints, or replace one that is too damaged to be repaired.

There are some changes to your lifestyle that can help improve your osteoarthritis symptoms too:

Regular exercise

Regular exercise helps to strengthen your joints and build up muscle, which can help to alleviate the stiffness and pain associated with arthritis. It can also help prevent the condition getting worse.

Getting regular exercise can also help you to lose any excess weight (if you have any), and maintaining a healthy body weight will reduce stress on your joints.

Go for exercises that are kind to your joints, so running or contact sports are not a great option here - instead, try swimming or cycling, which are gentler. The NHS recommends you get 150 minutes of exercise a week.

These are some of the more common treatments - a GP can take you through all of the options available and recommend which is the most suitable for you.

Rheumatoid arthritis treatment

The treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is usually comprised of pain management and medications that slow the progress of the condition, along with any complications that can arise. There are also lifestyle changes you can make.

The sooner you start treatment for this condition the better, and the less likely you are to experience permanent damage to your joints.

You may have to take more than one drug for the long-term, to keep your condition under control. Medications for rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • DMARDs (Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) - these types of drugs are used to slow the progress of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as helping to ease your symptoms. They block the effects of the chemicals the immune system releases to attack the joint.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) - if over the counter pain medication has not helped with the pain, a doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help with the inflammation in your joints.
  • Paracetamol or other painkillers - for mild pain, you can take over the counter pain medication, such as paracetamol.
  • Corticosteroids - these can help to reduce the pain and stiffness in your joints.
  • Biological treatments - These are a newer form of treatment and may be used if DMARDs or other treatments have not been effective. They work on stopping certain chemicals in your bloodstream from telling your immune system to attack your joints.

Other treatments for rheumatoid arthritis

If you are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, you may be referred to a physiotherapist who can work with you on your muscle strength. They’ll help you keep your joints moving, helping to ease the pain and prevent deterioration. It’s really important you try to keep as active as possible.

Splints and other gadgets are available to buy, which may help you day-to-day. An occupational therapist can advise you on which are best for your symptoms.

You may also want to speak with a podiatrist, who specialise in feet - they can recommend which footwear is best for your condition, making sure your feet and ankles get the best support.

Sometimes surgery may be required. If the joint is badly damaged or deformed a doctor may refer you to a surgeon. Surgery procedures used to treat rheumatoid arthritis can include ligament or tendon surgery, removal of inflamed tissue in the joint or joint replacement.

Other things that can help you manage day-to-day can include:

  • Hot or cold packs - applying a hot or cold compress to the joint can sometimes help reduce inflammation and pain in the joint.
  • TENS machine - this can numb the nerve endings that cause pain, though research on how effective it is on treating osteoarthritis is not conclusive.
  • Physiotherapy to help keep your joints moving.
  • Mobility device - if your arthritis limits your ability to walk, you may need a walking stick or other mobility aids to help you get around.
  • Wearing suitable footwear that support your joints.

What happens if arthritis is left untreated?

The symptoms of arthritis can be effectively managed, if you notice problems with your joints you should speak to a doctor as soon as possible.

If arthritis is left untreated it can lead to further complications and these include loss of function or deformity of the joints. Without effective treatment, you could become disabled or develop osteoporosis. Leaving rheumatoid arthritis untreated can lead to inflammation in other body systems leading to heart problems and anaemia.

You don’t need to cope on your own, our doctors will be able to recommend the best treatment for arthritis that is tailored to you.

The doctor will be able to identify which type of arthritis you have and will recommend the most appropriate treatment for your symptoms. They may recommend some lifestyle changes initially to see if these help. You will usually require ongoing treatment from a doctor and other specialists to keep arthritis under control.