How to treat Arthritic Pain – Osteoarthritis.


Arthritis means inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis in the UK.

OA mainly affects the joint cartilage and the bone tissue next to the cartilage.

OA causes pain and stiffness in joints. All joints are constantly undergoing repair because of the wear and tear placed on them through normal daily activities. However, in some people, it seems that this repair process becomes faulty in some way and OA develops.

In joints with OA, the joint cartilage becomes damaged. The bone tissue next to the cartilage can also be affected and bony growths can develop around the joint edges.These growths are called osteophytes and may be seen on X-rays.

The joints and the tissues around the joints can also become inflamed. This inflammation is called synovitis.

What may influence the development of OA?

  • Age: OA becomes more common with increasing age, possibly due to the reduced blood supply to the joint and less efficient mechanisms of repair in people as they become older.
  • Genetics may mean some people are more likely to develop OA.
    Obesity: Knee and hip OA are more likely to develop or be more severe, in obese people, due to the increased load on the joints.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop OA than men.
  • Previous joint injury, damage or deformity: from for example previous joint infection or fracture (break in the bone) around a joint, or a ligament injury that caused a joint to become unstable.
  • Occupational overuse of a joint: such as in elite athletes or people in jobs involving a lot of kneeling for knee OA and elbow OA may be more common in people working with pneumatic drills.

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?

  • Pain, stiffness, and limitation in full movement of the joint are typical. The stiffness tends to be worse first thing in the morning but tends to loosen up after half an hour or so.
  • Swelling and inflammation of an affected joint can sometimes occur. (But note, affected joints are not usually very swollen, red or warm. Tell your doctor if a joint suddenly swells up or becomes red or hot as this is a symptom that more commonly occurs with other types of arthritis.)
  • An affected joint tends to look a little larger than normal. This is due to overgrowth of the bone next to damaged cartilage.
  • Deformities of joints are due to OA are uncommon.
  • You may have poor mobility and problems walking if a knee or hip is badly affected.
  • No symptoms may occur. Quite a number of people have X-ray changes that indicate some degree of OA but have no, or only very mild, symptoms. The opposite can also be true. That is, you may have quite severe symptoms but with only minor changes seen on the X-ray.

What you can do to help treat osteoarthritis

There is no cure for OA but there are a number of things that can be done to ease symptoms.


Physiotherapy can help you to understand your problem, relieve pain, increase lost joint movement and most importantly assist you in self management of the problem.

The Assessment involves a brief discussion about your symptoms and a thorough assessment of the area affected. You will receive treatment specific to your problem.

The aims of treatment may include:

  • Reduce pain and stiffness, by treatment such as massage, joint mobilisation, electrotherapy, acupuncture and taping.
  • Provide exercise to help maintain or improve the movement of your affected joints and to strengthen muscles around the affected joint.
  • Assessment of foot biomechanics with view to providing shoes insoles (orthotics) if appropriate.
  • To improve walking and advice on how to use walking aids properly.
    Advice on how to limit joint damage and minimise disability that may result from your OA.
  • Advice on how to keep active and fit.
  • Help you to understand the condition and how to manage it.

Remember, something can usually be done to help. OA is more common as you get older but it isn’t just part of getting older. You don’t necessarily have to live with pain or disability.

Treatments your physiotherapist can advise you on:

Tens (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator) is a form of electrotherapy which some people have found helps ease pain. A TENS machine is a small device you wear under your clothes and which delivers small electrical pulses to the body via electrodes placed on the skin. It is possible to have a free trial of a TENS machine. Please ask about this.

Heat and Cold Therapy.
Some people find that they can also get some pain relief from using hot or cold packs on the affected joint(s). Special hot and cold packs that can either be cooled in the freezer, or heated in a microwave work really affectively.

Exercise may help reduce symptoms.
If possible, exercise regularly to help strengthen the muscles around affected joints, to keep you fit, and to maintain a good range joint movement. Swimming is ideal for most joints, but any exercise is better than none. Most people can manage a regular walk. Your physiotherapist can advice you on this.

Walking aids.
If you have OA of your hip or knee and the pain is making you limp, using a walking stick in the opposite hand to affected leg, may ease symptoms.

Other treatments which may help:

Weight control
If you are overweight, try to lose some weight as the extra burden placed on back, hips, and knees can make symptoms worse. Even a modest weight loss can make quite a difference.

Occupational therapy
An occupational therapist may be able to help if you need aids or modifications to your home to cope with any disability caused by OA. Special devices, such as tap turners to help with turning on a tap, may mean that you can carry out tasks around the house more easily.

Medicines used to treat osteoarthritis
Pain killers such as Paracetamol will often ease symptoms. Other medicines sometimes prescribed or advised by your GP may include Anti-inflammatory painkillers, various creams and occasionally a steriod injection may be administered.

Joint replacement surgery is an option for severe cases. Some joints can be replaced with artificial joints. Hip and knee replacement surgery has become a standard treatment for severe OA of these joints. Some other joints can also be replaced.

For more information or advice please get in touch with us.

For physiotherapy appointments and home visits and to book pilates please call Kate on 07956 372891 or email:


“…I have no hesitation in recommending Kate Whiteland’s physiotherapy services at times when your aching joints and painful muscles are crying out for help…” LP Reeves, Herts