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Living Your Best Life with Osteoarthritis

Ways to manage OA pain

​There are different ways to manage pain when you have OA. Talk to your healthcare provider about what you might try and what might work best for you.

Pain medicine for OA

Pain medicine won’t make all the pain your OA causes go away. The goal of pain medicine is to lower the pain to a level where you’re more comfortable, can exercise and move better, and have a better quality of life.

Always take the medicine as directed. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about your pain medicine.

Pain medicine works best when you also manage your pain with lifestyle changes like:

  • getting regular exercise
  • managing stress
  • planning your day to allow for rest between activities (also called conserving your energy)

Your healthcare providers, including your pharmacist, will talk to you about what strategies are right for you based on your health.

Here are some types of medicine that can help you manage your pain:

  • topical creams you put on your skin (such as capsaicin, diclofenac)
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) (such as naproxen, diclofenac, ibuprofen)
  • serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake Inhibitor (SNRI) class antidepressants (such as duloxetine)
  • intra-articular joint injections (such as cortisone, hyaluronic acid)

You can try taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) to see if it helps with your OA pain. Evidence suggests that it won’t harm you to try it, and it works for some people.

Glucosamine, a natural health product, doesn’t rebuild your cartilage or make your joint healthier. But some people find that it helps with their symptoms.

Some treatments are not recommended because we don’t know enough about them. These include:

  • intra-articular platelet rich plasma (PRP)
  • intra-articular stem cell therapy

Heat or cold

Using heat (such as a hot pack) or cold (like a cold pack or ice) can help your joint feel better. Always put a towel between ice and your skin, and don’t leave ice on longer than 20 minutes at a time. Heat can cause burns and ice can cause frostbite, so be very careful if you have poor circulation or less feeling in the area.


Working with a physiotherapist can help your joints move and work better. It can also help you safely move towards doing more advanced exercises.

Pacing yourself and conserving your energy

It’s best to do your activities at the time of day when you have the most energy.

Plan what you’ll do that day so you don’t do too much. Break up your activities throughout the week so that you don’t do too much in 1 day.

Be sure to include times to rest. Even 5 minutes of rest can help. For example, take walks in places where there are benches.

Don’t sit or stand for too long at a time—changing your position often can help manage symptoms (for example, you can sit on a stool when preparing a meal).

Use assistive devices (like a rolling cart to carry groceries).

Bracing and mobility aids

A brace can help stabilize your joint. Some help to take pressure off areas of the joint. There are 2 types:

  • Custom braces: Your family doctor will have to refer you to a certified orthotist. A custom brace costs money to make. If you have medical insurance, check with your insurer to see if you’re covered.
  • Over-the counter-braces: Medical supply stores carry knee braces. Many stores let you try on the brace before you buy it.

Walking aids, like a cane or walker, can help if have OA in your hip or knee that affects how well you move.

  • Hold the cane in the hand opposite to the painful joint (for example, for left knee pain, hold the cane in your right hand). Learn more about how to use a cane.
  • If you’re not steady with a cane, or find yourself holding onto the walls or furniture for support, a walker may be a better choice for you. Learn more about how to use a walker.

Insoles or shoes, such as shock-absorbing shoes or gel or silicone ins​oles, may help lower hip and knee pain for some people.

Current as of: October 2, 2020

Author: Bone & Joint Health Strategic Clinical Network, AHS