Osteoarthritis Treatment Options

Jory Cross by Jory Cross | Licensed since 2012
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis affects about 27 million Americans and is the most common joint condition. Also known as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis most often affects the knees, hips, neck, back, hands, big toes, and small finger joints.

When you have osteoarthritis, the cartilage at the ends of the bones breaks down, which causes pain and swelling, making it difficult for you to move your joints. According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis (OA) is most common in individuals age 65 and older, and about half of all people will develop osteoarthritis in their knees, while one in four will have OA in the hips by age 85.

Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed with osteoarthritis or are looking for information for a loved one with OA, here is an overview of osteoarthritis treatment options that may be available to you.

What types of osteoarthritis treatment are available?

There is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, treatment is available to help manage your condition. Most osteoarthritis treatment focuses on four main goals:

  • Managing symptoms, such as decreasing stiffness and swelling and providing arthritis pain relief.
  • Improving flexibility and range of motion in the joints.
  • Increasing mobility with appropriate exercise and assistive devices.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight to reduce stress on affected joints.

When you see your health-care provider for osteoarthritis treatment, he or she may recommend some combination of the following therapies for arthritis pain relief to improve your quality of life.

Medication therapy for osteoarthritis treatment

Your doctor may recommend daily or as-needed osteoarthritis treatment with over-the counter or prescription medications to help you manage symptoms.

Analgesics such as acetaminophen or opioids may be prescribed for arthritis pain relief. Your doctor may also recommend anti-inflammatory medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); common types of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen.

Corticosteroids are another type of anti-inflammatory drug that your doctor may prescribe as part of your osteoarthritis treatment. These medications are available by injection or can be taken by mouth. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe hyaluronic acid injections as part of your medication regime, which are given at a doctor’s office.

Physical and occupational therapy for arthritis pain relief

Your doctor may recommend physical or occupational therapy as part of your osteoarthritis treatment. A physical therapist will work with you to improve flexibility and range of motion using a combination of exercises, stretching, joint manipulation, and massage. He or she may also show you how to use braces, therapeutic taping, and hot and cold packs at home for arthritis pain relief.

An occupational therapist may help you learn to use assistive devices such as walkers, canes, and other adaptive equipment to help you more easily accomplish tasks of daily living.

Osteoarthritis treatment with surgery

In cases of advanced osteoarthritis, your doctor may recommend joint replacement or bone realignment surgery. This often occurs in the hips and knees. If this is medically necessary, the surgery may be performed by an orthopedic surgeon.

Self-management care for arthritis pain relief

Simple lifestyle changes can make a difference in helping you care for your condition and helping you delay the need for more intensive osteoarthritis treatment. Your doctor may recommend that you start a sensible diet and exercise program to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight and improve muscle strength to reduce stress on your joints.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, a study found that some people with OA had symptom relief with a specialized osteoarthritis diet, which includes lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. The plant-based diet provided increased mobility and helped with arthritis pain relief.

You may also get arthritis pain relief with alternative therapies such as nutritional supplements, acupressure and acupuncture, and relaxation techniques. These therapies, however, are usually not covered by Medicare.

Does Medicare cover osteoarthritis treatment?

Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) covers medically necessary services and supplies for your osteoarthritis treatment. You may be responsible for any deductibles, copayments, and/or coinsurance costs that apply. Medicare Part A covers treatment you receive as an inpatient, including hospital care, surgery, rehabilitation, and skilled nursing care. Medicare Part B covers outpatient services such as doctor visits, diagnostic testing, outpatient therapy services (for example, physical or occupational therapy), and medications administered by your doctor in an outpatient setting (such as joint injections). If you meet eligibility requirements, Part B may also pay for certain assistive devices under its coverage of durable medical equipment, such as canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and braces.

Original Medicare coverage for most prescription drugs is limited. If you’re enrolled in Original Medicare, you can get help with prescription drug costs by enrolling in a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan, which works alongside your Part A and Part B coverage. Alternatively, you can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage (also known as a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan) to get help paying for arthritis pain relief medications your doctor may prescribe.

Before enrolling in a plan that includes prescription drug benefits, be sure to check the plan’s formulary, or list of covered medications, if you take arthritis pain relief medications on a regular basis. Keep in mind that formularies may change at any time; the Medicare plan will notify you if necessary. You may have deductibles, copayments, and/or coinsurance costs as part of your Part D prescription drug coverage.

As mentioned, Medicare doesn’t cover alternative medicines, such as over-the-counter vitamins, supplements, acupuncture, or chiropractic services. If you decide to pursue alternative medicine for your arthritis pain relief, you may have to pay the full cost out of pocket.

As mentioned, you may be eligible for Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) as an alternative to Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans are offered through Medicare-approved private insurance companies and must cover at least the same level of coverage as Original Medicare (except for hospice services, which remain covered through Part A). Many plans may also cover additional benefits, such as prescription drugs or wellness programs. If you have osteoarthritis, maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of managing your condition, and wellness programs may help promote a healthy lifestyle that helps keep excess weight off.

If you need help understanding your Medicare options for osteoarthritis treatment, I’m available to answer your questions and help you find coverage that fits your situation. To request an email with information prepared just for you or to schedule a phone call at your convenience, click one of the links below. Find out more about me by clicking the “View profile” button below. You can see some of the plan options in your area you may qualify for by clicking the Compare Plans button.

For more information on osteoarthritis treatment,

Arthritis Foundation. “Eat Right for Your Type of Arthritis.” Updated May 2015. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/arthritis-diet/anti-inflammatory/eat-to-beat-inflammation.php

Arthritis Foundation. “Osteoarthritis Treatment.” http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/osteoarthritis/treatment.php

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