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Osteoarthritis treatment for joint pain relief

Joint pain can seem like a natural part of aging. One day you might notice that your knees ache while walking down the stairs or that your hip hurts after a long day at work. These aches can range from annoying to debilitating.

If you have joint pain, you might have a condition called osteoarthritis. This is the most common type of arthritis. It affects many adults, especially if you’re over the age of 50. Our orthopedic doctors, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and other osteoarthritis experts have helped thousands of people find relief from pain, stiffness and swelling so they can move comfortably again.

Joint pain doesn’t need to be a part of your life, make an appointment to take your first step toward feeling better.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis, sometimes called degenerative joint disease (DJD) or wear-and-tear arthritis, is a condition when the articular cartilage in your joints breaks down. Articular cartilage is a type of connective tissue in your body. When it’s healthy, it’s smooth and provides cushioning to the joint. When it breaks down, it can cause pain, swelling and stiffness.

Osteoarthritis can occur at any age but is most common in people over 50 years old. And while it’s possible to get osteoarthritis in any joint, it often affects the hips, knees, shoulders and wrists.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis

  • Loss of flexibility in the joint (limited range of motion)
  • Joint aches or pains at the end of the day
  • Joint pain during physical activity
  • Joint instability or giving way
  • Weak muscles around the joint
  • Swelling around the joint
  • Clicking or popping noises while moving your joint
  • The feeling of bones rubbing together while moving (grating sensation)
  • Bone spurs (hard bumps of bone around the affected joint)
  • Noticeable changes in the alignment of the joint (deformity of the joint)
  • Joint pain or stiffness after waking up in the morning or resting

Causes of osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis may have several underlying causes. One of the most common is wear and tear as we age. When we get older, we can lose or damage the cartilage in our joints, causing pain and stiffness.

Traumatic injuries can also cause osteoarthritis. Inflammation in your joints after an injury may cause the articular cartilage to break down. Heavy, prolonged use of the joints, like regularly lifting heavy objects, can also cause osteoarthritis.

A history of joint infection or gout can also increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is typically a progressive condition, meaning that it can get worse over time. Depending on your symptoms, osteoarthritis can be divided into four different stages:

Stage 1 – Minor

This is the first stage of osteoarthritis where the pain is minor. You may start to notice some joint pain and stiffness, but it should be easy to manage minor joint pain with over-the-counter medicines.

Stage 2 – Mild

During the mild stage, the cartilage in your joints starts to break down. This can cause more discomfort than during stage one. You might start to notice pain while doing daily activities, like a twinge in your knee or hip while getting in and out of the car.

When osteoarthritis is mild, physical therapy is often the best course of treatment.

Stage 3 – Moderate

Your osteoarthritis symptoms will be moderate during stage three. You may notice pain and stiffness limit your range of movement and ability to do physical activities. You may have to modify your favorite exercises or take the stairs a bit more slowly. Joint swelling is also common during this stage of osteoarthritis, and existing bone spurs may be noticeable while new bone spurs may develop.

When osteoarthritis is moderate, we’ll talk with you about different treatment options. Physical therapy can still be effective, but we may recommend combining it with joint injections or other treatments. Depending on your condition, we may also begin to talk about joint replacement surgery.

Stage 4 – Advanced

This is the most severe stage of osteoarthritis. During stage four, there will be little to no cartilage between the bones.

Most people experience a lot of pain, stiffness and swelling when osteoarthritis is advanced. This will make it very difficult to do daily tasks and physical activities – you may have trouble walking up and down stairs, or even tying your shoes. If your condition becomes advanced, osteoarthritis surgery may be the best course of treatment to manage the condition.

Treatments for osteoarthritis

It’s probably time to speak to a doctor about your osteoarthritis symptoms if they’re making it hard to get through everyday activities. If osteoarthritis is left untreated, it can become increasingly difficult to get through your day-to-day life, and you may notice more severe joint stiffness and a loss of mobility.

We’ll work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that may include some of these common treatments:

Osteoarthritis medications

There are many medicines that can help manage joint pain and swelling. We commonly recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help reduce inflammation and swelling in and around the joint. These include over-the-counter options like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).

If NSAIDs don’t help relieve joint pain, we may prescribe other types of medicines depending on your specific condition.

Injections for osteoarthritis

Your joints are surrounded by fluid. This fluid helps lubricate the joints and acts as a shock absorber.

We can use injections of artificial joint fluid (hyaluronic) to help lubricate your joints, relieving pain and stiffness, and returning them to normal function.

Cortisone injections are also commonly used to manage osteoarthritis pain. Cortisone is a steroid that can help reduce painful inflammation and swelling around the joint.

Injection treatments can provide longer-term relief from osteoarthritis symptoms than medicines, but they are not permanent solutions. We often prescribe them in addition to other treatments, like physical therapy.

Physical therapy for osteoarthritis

Physical therapy is a type of treatment that uses exercises, education and manual therapy to reduce pain, build strength and improve flexibility. By strengthening your muscles around the affected joints and improving your flexibility, physical therapy can manage pain and stiffness caused by osteoarthritis.

Our board-certified physical therapists will create a personalized treatment plan to target the muscles around your joints. We’ll also teach you how to modify your favorite activities to help you move comfortably throughout the day and get back to the things you love.

Regenerative medicine for osteoarthritis

Regenerative medicine is a type of medicine that uses the latest medical technologies to help heal damaged tissue and reduce pain. Our cartilage regenerative program helps treat cartilage damage by replacing damaged tissue in the affected joints. This is a leading-edge treatment that we’re proud to offer to our patients.

There are three approaches we use to restore some of the cartilage that has been damaged by wear and tear. The first is microfracture treatment. This is done to stimulate repair tissue in your cartilage. This can help heal some of the damaged tissue and reduce pain.

Another approach is using cell-based technology to regrow some of your tissue. To do this, we’ll take some healthy cells from your body, let them multiply in our lab, and implant them into the damaged joint. This can be more effective than microfracture treatment.

The third approach we use is transplanting healthy cartilage and bone into the affected joint (osteochondral allograft). The healthy bone and cartilage may come from your own body or a donor. By replacing damaged tissue with healthy tissue, you’ll feel less pain and be able to move more confidently.

We typically recommend this treatment for younger patients in order to reduce pain, improve function and slow the progression of osteoarthritis.

Orthobiologics for osteoarthritis

TRIA is at the forefront of orthobiologics and is a leader in the research, education and use of this new treatment option. Orthobiologics is an emerging field that uses substances naturally found in the body to reduce pain and improve your body’s function.

Orthobiologic treatments are often used alongside other treatments like medications or physical therapy, as an alternative to surgery.

Osteoarthritis surgery

In most cases, we can manage osteoarthritis symptoms with nonsurgical treatments. We’ll only guide you toward surgery if it’s the best treatment option for you. If we do recommend surgery as the best course of treatment, we’ll explain the procedure and answer all of your questions.

We may recommend joint replacement surgery to treat osteoarthritis.


Osteotomy is a type of surgery where we realign how the bones fit together to improve movement. The goal of an osteotomy is to shift the weight so a less-involved part of the joint bears your weight. This helps reduce pain and improve your mobility. Osteotomies are typically performed on knees, though we sometimes recommend osteotomies for ankles and hips.

Joint replacement surgery

Joint replacement surgery is a procedure where we replace part or all of the joint with an artificial one.

Specialty programs for osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis makes you 2.5 times more likely to experience a fall or injury. During this program, our orthopedic experts will help improve your strength and balance through exercise and training.

Exercising in the water reduces the pressure on your joints while helping you improve your strength, stamina and flexibility. Our program is led by board-certified physical therapists who use the latest technology.

Everyone experiences pain differently. Our Pain Management Program creates individual plans to reduce your pain with therapy, medicine and other treatments so you can comfortably get through the day.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

If symptoms of osteoarthritis are making it difficult for you to do everyday tasks or activities you love, it’s time to visit a doctor. There are several treatments available that can help you manage your symptoms and make it possible for you to move comfortably and confidently again.

If you think you might have osteoarthritis, many different types of doctors can help you. Our primary care doctors, orthopedists and orthopedic surgeons are all skilled at evaluating symptoms of osteoarthritis.

If specialty care is needed, we’ll connect you with an osteoarthritis orthopedic specialist.

It’s possible for anyone to develop osteoarthritis, but certain factors may increase your risk:

  • Age – Older adults are more likely to develop joint conditions like osteoarthritis.
  • Gender – Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
  • History of joint injuries – Sports injuries, repetitive joint movements and overuse can damage the joint cartilage and make it more likely for you to develop osteoarthritis.
  • Being overweight – Carrying excess weight can increase pressure on the joints. It also increases your risk of developing diabetes, which is linked to higher rates of osteoarthritis.
  • A family history of osteoarthritis – Your genetics may play a role in your risk.

Osteoarthritis gets worse over time. If left untreated, there are several complications that could possibly develop:

Chronic stiffness and pain

Pain and stiffness can limit your ability to do everyday activities and move throughout your day. This can keep you from doing the things you enjoy and decrease the amount of physical activity you do.

Difficulty sleeping

Pain and stiffness can make it difficult to get a good night’s rest. In addition to feeling tired, not getting enough sleep can cause your pain to feel more intense the next day.

Anxiety and depression

People with osteoarthritis are more likely to develop mental health conditions like anxiety and depression due to painful symptoms.

Weight gain

Pain and stiffness that limit your mobility can make it difficult for you to be physically active. Lack of physical activity can contribute to gaining weight. This can make symptoms of osteoarthritis worse and increase your risk of diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Increased risk of injuries

Osteoarthritis makes you about 2.5 more likely to experience a fall or injury. Injuries like sprains, strains and fractures are common in people with joint pain.


Chondrolysis is a condition where the cartilage between the joints is severely damaged. This causes the space between the joints to narrow so that your bones are rubbing against each other. Chondrolysis occurs rapidly, like an infection. In some cases, we can inject medications into your joint to help manage this condition.

Chondrolysis is a very painful condition that can lead to additional complications. Joint replacement surgery is a common treatment when the cartilage is so severely damaged.

There are several lifestyle changes you can make to help slow the progression of osteoarthritis:

  • Maintain a healthy weight – Extra weight can put extra pressure on your joints. If you’re overweight, losing even 5% of your weight can have health benefits.
  • Get regular exercise – Exercising for 30 minutes a day, five days a week can help manage joint pain and stiffness. Physical activity can help increase or maintain your strength and flexibility. But opt for low-impact activities like walking or swimming. Overuse from intense exercise can put more stress on your joints.
  • Control blood sugar levels – High blood sugar is linked to a molecule that makes your joints stiffer and more sensitive to wear and tear. If you have diabetes, you likely have higher levels of inflammation in your body that make you more susceptible to cartilage damage. Eating a low-sugar diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and getting regular physical activity can help manage your blood sugar levels. You can also talk with your doctor about what you can do to manage your blood sugar.
  • Reduce inflammation – High levels of inflammation in the body can damage cartilage. Inflammation can be caused by stress, diet and other health conditions. Regular exercise, losing weight and managing stress can help reduce inflammation. You can also eat a diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods like berries, leafy greens and foods high in Omega-3s.

Talking to a doctor can also help you manage osteoarthritis. We’ll help you get on a personalized treatment plan to manage uncomfortable osteoarthritis symptoms.

The only way to know if you need surgery to treat osteoarthritis is to speak with a doctor. In most cases, we’ll be able to help you manage your condition with nonsurgical treatments like physical therapy, medications or injections.

If surgery is needed, we’ll talk you through the procedure so you know exactly what to expect before, during and after the surgery. And we’ll only guide you toward surgery if it’s the best treatment for you.

We accept most health insurance plans, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CIGNA, HealthPartners, Medica, Medicare, Medicare Advantage, PreferredOne and many others.

You can check with your insurance to see if your plan covers part or all of the services needed. Call the number on the back of your card for help looking at your options.

Don’t have your card in front of you? Here are member services numbers to help you get started: