Treatment of Arthritis

Treatment of arthritis aims to stop the progress of the disease and relieve symptoms. Get to know what options are used to achieve it.
Treatment of Arthritis

Written by Josberth Johan Benitez Colmenares, 27 July, 2021

Last update: 27 July, 2021

Arthritis is a general term used to describe more than 100 types of rheumatic diseases. Some, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, are the most common, but others such as gout, lupus, scleroderma, or fibromyalgia have a significant prevalence in diagnoses. Although it can’t be cured, there are currently several options for the treatment of arthritis.

The type of therapy depends on many factors: age, severity of symptoms, variant of the condition developed, lifestyle, and general health. However, the goal will always be the same: to reduce inflammation, pain and prevent the progression of the disease. Today we bring you an extensive guide with the available alternatives.

Short-term treatment of arthritis

Johns Hopkins Medicine tells us that arthritis treatment plans are divided into short-term and long-term options. The former are intended to reduce symptoms, while the latter are indicated to counteract the progress of the disease. Among the short-term alternatives usually used, we highlight the following:

Drug therapy

Treatment of arthritis includes pain relievers
Arthritis medications are often the first-line therapy, and many of them are available over the counter in pharmacies (without a prescription).

In this case, over-the-counter medications are used to relieve pain or inflammation. Acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are the main ones. Although they don’t require a prescription, the ideal way is for the specialist to regulate the treatment.

In this way, they can adjust the dose, frequency, and medications according to your condition. They’ll also ensure that the active compound doesn’t come into contact with the drugs you’re taking.

The Arthritis Society has provided an extensive guide on all the available options. It includes contraindications, doses, trade names, as well as detailing which type of arthritis they’re recommended for.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, also known as TENS, is an arthritis treatment intended to reduce pain in patients. It consists of a device that sends electrical impulses to the affected area. Studies and research have supported its use for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, respectively.

This therapy works by blocking pain signals, resulting in momentary pain relief. Relief happens in the first minute, although it’s only temporary. In some countries, you need a prescription to buy and use the device. It can be very useful if you suffer from chronic pain or suffer from an advanced stage of the disease.

Compresses in the affected areas

Multiple studies and research recommend the use of hot and cold compresses for the relief of pain and inflammation. It is, of course, only a temporary relief, but it’s very useful to combat the stiffness which is so characteristic of rheumatic diseases. You can use this technique, for example, before exercising or carrying out an activity that requires certain flexibility.

Joint immobilization

In some settings, the use of joint immobilization may be helpful. Pain and inflammation tend to increase when faced with stress. While drug therapy works to calm it down, you can wear a brace to reduce movement in the affected area. It is, as a result, a complementary treatment.

Massages

There’s evidence that massage can be used as a treatment for arthritis. Sessions with moderate intensity or pressure are preferred, as, in practice, they’re more effective in promoting blood flow and relieving pain in the compromised area.

The effects are perceived after a couple of days with an improvement in flexibility, grip strength, and range of motion of the joints.

Long-term treatment of arthritis

The above options are only temporary and palliative. As the disease is a chronic manifestation, therapies should be used to control its long-term evolution. In this case, the following can be used:

Antirheumatic drug therapy

So-called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs ) are the main therapy to stop the progress of the condition. Evidence indicates that they’re more effective in some variants, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis, among others. They’re divided into two types:

  • Conventional: These are the most used by specialists and include drugs such as methotrexate, leflunomide, hydroxychloroquine and sulfasalazine.
  • Biologicals: These are used when patients don’t experience any improvement with the previous ones. Those used in this case are infliximab, adalimumab, etanercept, abatacept, among others.

Biological DMARDs are more specific, as they act on a specific part of the immune system. Both types can be administered orally, subcutaneously, or intravenously. They share similar adverse effects, among which we highlight diarrhea, nausea, rashes and an increased risk of infections.

Corticosteroid intake

In theory, the treatment of arthritis with corticosteroids is part of the short-term therapy, but since most patients take them permanently, we’ll include them in this section. They’re used to reduce inflammation and pain, either under oral administration, intravenous, or with targeted injections in the affected areas.

Studies show that long-term use or high doses can develop alarming side effects. Therefore, the treatment should be followed under medical indication. Some of the prescriptions are prednisone, hydrocortisone, and dexamethasone.

Hyaluronic acid therapy

Some patients, especially those who have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, may be candidates for hyaluronic acid therapy.

Although there are still many questions to be clarified around the substance, researchers agree that it’s a safe, practical, and useful method for patients to experience an improvement in symptoms and mobility.

The application is done with intra-articular injections. These should only be carried out by trained personnel, in a controlled environment, and with sterilized materials. If you apply for therapy make sure that these three variables converge at the same time.

Surgery

Arthritis treatment may include surgeries as a last option
When bone and joint tissue is severely damaged, some types of surgery can be performed. However, in older people, it should be carefully evaluated.

Today there are many types of surgeries available for the disease. These are considered according to the variant the patient has developed.

For example, specialists can perform arthroscopy, joint fusion or replacement, synovectomy, resection, and osteotomy, among others. These are considered last-resort options, so it isn’t part of the main therapy.

If the disease is in a very advanced state, the specialist will discuss the possibility of carrying this out. If so, a rehabilitation program will also be applied as part of the arthritis treatment.

Complementary arthritis treatment

The above is only part of the options for treating rheumatic diseases. Our understanding of these conditions has motivated us to discover that lifestyle changes also have a positive impact on affected people:

  • Exercise: Studies and research on the subject show that exercise can prevent episodes of cachexia, improve mobility, provide greater flexibility in the joints, increase self-esteem and, on the whole, combat the progression of the disease.
  • A balanced diet: Diet alone doesn’t slow down the progression of arthritis, but it can help you maintain or lose weight. This is very important to reduce the impact on your joints. Some studies suggest that certain food groups or diets may report positive effects.
  • Stress management: As with other diseases, it experts have shown that stress can worsen symptoms. Therefore, you must attempt to reduce it in your day to day routine.
  • Use assistive devices: These can include canes, walkers, installing grab bars in specific places in your home, and other options. Even if you start treatment early, the course of the disease can’t be fully predicted.

In addition to this, we can include some activities that can relax you, provide you with certain movements, or relieve you in one way or another. For example, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, tai chi, and so on. Other methods are less recommended, such as magnet therapy. Before trying any method, we recommend talking about it with your specialist.

Questions and answers about arthritis treatment

We finish this section by answering a few of the most common questions regarding the treatment of arthritis:

Does arthritis have a cure?

No, arthritis is a chronic disease that can’t be cured. You can opt for long-term drug therapy to control it or consider surgery.

Can I do high-impact activities as therapy?

This isn’t recommended, as these types of activities put a lot of pressure on your joints. The CDC recommends opting for low-impact disciplines, such as walking, biking, swimming, and the like.

What can I do if my symptoms get worse?

It isn’t uncommon for symptoms to become worse in heat or cold. Cold is generally associated with more acute symptoms, while hot or dry climates can lead to improvements in some patients.

Ideally, you should be aware of the changes that worsen your symptoms and use some of the short-term therapies available in those settings.

What do I do if the treatment doesn’t work?

If you don’t find any improvement after a couple of months under treatment, talk to your doctor about the possibility of exploring other alternative therapies. There are many medications available for arthritis, so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding the right one for you.

It might interest you...
Fibromyalgia Risk Factors and Causes
Muy SaludRead it in Muy Salud
Fibromyalgia Risk Factors and Causes

Currently, one of the great challenges that science still faces is determining what are the causes and risk factors of fibromyalgia.



  • Benjamin O, Bansal P, Goyal A, Lappin SL. Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARD). 2020 Jul 4. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan–.
  • Cooney JK, Law RJ, Matschke V, Lemmey AB, Moore JP, Ahmad Y, Jones JG, Maddison P, Thom JM. Benefits of exercise in rheumatoid arthritis. J Aging Res. 2011 Feb 13;2011:681640.
  • Ethgen O, de Lemos Esteves F, Bruyere O, Reginster JY. What do we know about the safety of corticosteroids in rheumatoid arthritis? Curr Med Res Opin. 2013 Sep;29(9):1147-60.
  • Field T, Diego M, Delgado J, Garcia D, Funk CG. Rheumatoid arthritis in upper limbs benefits from moderate pressure massage therapy. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2013 May;19(2):101-3.
  • Kibisa R, Krisciūnas A, Sarauskaite J. Reumatoidiniu artritu serganciu ligoniu skausmo malsinimas transkutanine elektrine nervu stimuliacija [Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation in treatment of rheumatoid arthritis patients]. Medicina (Kaunas). 2004;40(1):38-41.
  • Metsios GS, Stavropoulos-Kalinoglou A, Kitas GD. The role of exercise in the management of rheumatoid arthritis. Expert Rev Clin Immunol. 2015;11(10):1121-30.
  • Migliore, A., & Granata, M. Intra-articular use of hyaluronic acid in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Clinical interventions in aging. 2008; 3(2): 365.
  • Oosterveld FG, Rasker JJ. Treating arthritis with locally applied heat or cold. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 1994 Oct;24(2):82-90.
  • Osiri, M., Welch, V., Brosseau, L., Shea, B., McGowan, J. L., Tugwell, P., & Wells, G. A. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for knee osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2000; (4).
  • Straub RH, Kalden JR. Stress of different types increases the proinflammatory load in rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Res Ther. 2009;11(3):114.
  • Tedeschi SK, Costenbader KH. Is There a Role for Diet in the Therapy of Rheumatoid Arthritis? Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2016 May;18(5):23.