Nonsurgical Treatments

If you have early-stage arthritis, non-surgical treatments are probably the first options your doctor will pursue in treating joint pain.

If you have osteoarthritis, your doctor can help you choose from of a wide range of treatment options. The effectiveness of these non-surgical treatments varies from person-to-person.

Rheumatoid arthritis is usually treated with medication. A wide variety of non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory, cortisone-like prescriptions are usually used.

In either case, the goal of treatment is to reduce pain, increase function and help you return to normal activities.

Nonsurgical treatments fall into four major groups:

  • medication (including complementary and/or prescription medications)
  • natural treatments and lifestyle modifications
  • exercise
  • supportive devices


There is no known cure for arthritis but many medications can help to reduce pain and maintain joint movement. More information about medications for arthritis. 

Natural Treatments and Lifestyle Modification

Lifestyle modifications can include losing weight, switching from high-impact exercises like running or jumping to low-impact workouts like swimming or cycling, and minimizing activities that aggravate the condition, such as climbing stairs. Simple weight loss can reduce stress on weight bearing joints, like the knee, resulting in reduced pain and increased function.


Research has shown that exercise is an essential tool in managing your arthritis. The benefits of an appropriate exercise program include: 

  • reduced joint pain and stiffness
  • increased strong muscle around the joints, and
  • increased flexibility and endurance

Exercise also helps promote overall health and wellness by giving you more energy, helping you sleep better, controlling your weight, decreasing depression, and giving you more self-esteem.

The Arthritis Foundation offers an excellent guide to exercise for people with arthritis.

Supportive Devices

Using supportive devices, such as a cane, wearing energy-absorbing shoes or inserts, or wearing a brace or knee sleeve can be helpful. Some research studies have focused on the use of knee braces for treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee. They may be especially helpful if the arthritis is centered on one side of the knee. A brace can assist with stability and function. There are two types of braces that are often used. An "unloader" brace shifts load away from the affected portion of the knee. A "support" brace helps support the entire knee load. In most studies, the knee symptoms improved, with a decrease in pain on weightbearing and a general ability to walk longer distances.


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