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If you have pain and stiffness in your knees, hips, hands, or other joints that interfere with your daily activities, you could have osteoarthritis. Although the condition can’t be cured, a variety of nonsurgical treatments are available to help you manage your pain, improve your mobility, and slow the progression of arthritis so you can get back to enjoying life.

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When to See a Doctor for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage and other structures in your joints deteriorate and change over time. As your body tries to repair the damage, your joints may become inflamed, leading to pain, stiffness, and loss of motion. The risk of getting osteoarthritis increases as you age, but obesity, a family history of osteoarthritis, a previous joint injury, and repetitive stress on the joint are also contributing factors. If you experience joint discomfort that limits your ability to be active, it is time to see a provider. 

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Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, including the spine, but is most common in the knees, hands, and hips. It is usually diagnosed through a physical exam of your joints, and X-rays may be used to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other causes of your symptoms. However, the amount of joint damage seen on an X-ray does not necessarily indicate how much osteoarthritis will affect you. Many people with severe joint damage can function with little to no pain. If left untreated, osteoarthritis can increase your risk of falls and other complications. Early diagnosis is important because it allows you to start treatment sooner, which can help relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

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Nonsurgical Osteoarthritis Treatments

Many people with osteoarthritis can manage their condition without surgery. That’s why our providers begin by recommending conservative treatments.

Lifestyle Changes
A sedentary lifestyle and being overweight can contribute to osteoarthritis and make your symptoms worse. We can advise you on how to eat healthier, lose weight, or maintain your current weight. 

Physical Therapy 
Regular sessions with a physical therapist may be all you need to relieve your symptoms. Our physical therapists help you increase muscle strength and range of motion, and they can assist you in staying active or becoming more active. Regular physical activity and a personalized exercise program can reduce pain and prevent osteoarthritis from getting worse. Whether your goal is to comfortably climb stairs, walk in your neighborhood, or stay active in other ways, our physical therapists are here to support you. 

Over-the counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications can be taken on a short-term basis to relieve pain and inflammation. Topical creams may also be effective. If these medications are not effective, our providers can recommend prescription strength pain medication, steroid or other types of joint injections, and prescription pain relievers. 

Joint Health Program

If you have osteoarthritis of the knee or hip and want to avoid or postpone surgery, you may benefit from our Joint Health Program. You will work with a physical therapist with extensive training in hip, knee, shoulder, and thumb osteoarthritis as well as nutrition, weight management, sleep quality, cognitive behavioral strategies, and drug-free pain management. They will design a personalized treatment plan and communicate regularly with your orthopaedic specialist or primary care provider. 

Best Orthopaedic Hospital in North Carolina

Where you receive your care matters. Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why our orthopaedics program is nationally ranked, and the highest-ranked program in North Carolina, according to U.S. News & World Report for 2024–2025.

Surgical Osteoarthritis Treatments

If the pain in your joints has become unbearable and no longer responds to conservative treatment, surgery may be an option. The type of surgery recommended depends on many factors, including your age, overall health, everyday activities, affected joint, and severity of your condition. 

Arthroscopic Surgeries

In these minimally invasive procedures, cartilage and bone can be repaired and resurfaced.

Joint Replacement Surgery

Also called arthroplasty, this surgery removes damaged bone and cartilage in the affected joint and replaces it with a metal or ceramic implant.

This procedure can increase stability in joints. It involves cutting bone to redistribute weight on a joint and make it more stable.

Joint Fusion
This involves cleaning the worn-out joint and fusing the bones together with screws, plates, and bone grafts.

This page was medically reviewed on 07/04/2024 by