Osteoarthritis - Diagnosis and treatment (2023)


During the physical exam, your doctor will check your affected joint for tenderness, swelling, redness and flexibility.

Imaging tests

To get pictures of the affected joint, your doctor might recommend:

  • X-rays. Cartilage doesn't show up on X-ray images, but cartilage loss is revealed by a narrowing of the space between the bones in your joint. An X-ray can also show bone spurs around a joint.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of bone and soft tissues, including cartilage. An MRI isn't commonly needed to diagnose osteoarthritis but can help provide more information in complex cases.

Lab tests

Analyzing your blood or joint fluid can help confirm the diagnosis.

  • Blood tests. Although there's no blood test for osteoarthritis, certain tests can help rule out other causes of joint pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Joint fluid analysis. Your doctor might use a needle to draw fluid from an affected joint. The fluid is then tested for inflammation and to determine whether your pain is caused by gout or an infection rather than osteoarthritis.

More Information

  • MRI
  • X-ray


Osteoarthritis can't be reversed, but treatments can reduce pain and help you move better.


Medications that can help relieve osteoarthritis symptoms, primarily pain, include:

  • Acetaminophen. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) has been shown to help some people with osteoarthritis who have mild to moderate pain. Taking more than the recommended dose of acetaminophen can cause liver damage.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve), taken at the recommended doses, typically relieve osteoarthritis pain. Stronger NSAIDs are available by prescription.

    NSAIDs can cause stomach upset, cardiovascular problems, bleeding problems, and liver and kidney damage. NSAIDs as gels, applied to the skin over the affected joint, have fewer side effects and may relieve pain just as well.

  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta). Normally used as an antidepressant, this medication is also approved to treat chronic pain, including osteoarthritis pain.


  • Physical therapy. A physical therapist can show you exercises to strengthen the muscles around your joint, increase your flexibility and reduce pain. Regular gentle exercise that you do on your own, such as swimming or walking, can be equally effective.
  • Occupational therapy. An occupational therapist can help you discover ways to do everyday tasks without putting extra stress on your already painful joint. For instance, a toothbrush with a large grip could make brushing your teeth easier if you have osteoarthritis in your hands. A bench in your shower could help relieve the pain of standing if you have knee osteoarthritis.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). This uses a low-voltage electrical current to relieve pain. It provides short-term relief for some people with knee and hip osteoarthritis.

Surgical and other procedures

Knee osteotomy

Osteoarthritis - Diagnosis and treatment (1)

Knee osteotomy

For some people, arthritis damages one side of the knee more than the other side. This can cause your knee to bow inward or outward. Removing or adding a wedge of bone in your shinbone or thighbone can help straighten this bowing and shift your weight to the undamaged part of your knee joint.

(Video) Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis

Artificial hip

Osteoarthritis - Diagnosis and treatment (2)

Artificial hip

Hip prostheses are designed to mimic the ball-and-socket action of your hip joint. During hip replacement surgery, your surgeon removes the diseased or damaged parts of your hip joint and inserts the artificial joint.

Knee comparisons

Osteoarthritis - Diagnosis and treatment (3)

Knee comparisons

One of the most common reasons for knee replacement surgery is severe pain from joint damage caused by wear-and-tear arthritis, also called osteoarthritis. An artificial knee joint has metal caps for the thighbone and shinbone, and high-density plastic to replace damaged cartilage. Each of these artificial parts is called a prosthesis.

(Video) Osteoarthritis - causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment & pathology

If conservative treatments don't help, you might want to consider procedures such as:

  • Cortisone injections. Injections of a corticosteroid into your joint might relieve pain for a few weeks. Your doctor numbs the area around your joint, then places a needle into the space within your joint and injects medication. The number of cortisone injections you can receive each year is generally limited to three or four, because the medication can worsen joint damage over time.
  • Lubrication injections. Injections of hyaluronic acid might relieve pain by providing some cushioning in your knee, though some research suggests that these injections offer no more relief than a placebo. Hyaluronic acid is similar to a component normally found in your joint fluid.
  • Realigning bones. If osteoarthritis has damaged one side of your knee more than the other, an osteotomy might be helpful. In a knee osteotomy, a surgeon cuts across the bone either above or below the knee, and then removes or adds a wedge of bone. This shifts your body weight away from the worn-out part of your knee.
  • Joint replacement. In joint replacement surgery, your surgeon removes your damaged joint surfaces and replaces them with plastic and metal parts. Surgical risks include infections and blood clots. Artificial joints can wear out or come loose and might eventually need to be replaced.

More Information

  • Arthritis creams
  • Cortisone shots
  • Elbow replacement surgery
  • Hip replacement
  • Knee replacement
  • Shoulder replacement surgery

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(Video) Osteoarthritis: Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, and Treatment | Mass General Brigham

Clinical trials

Explore Mayo Clinic studies testing new treatments, interventions and tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage this condition.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Learn all you can about your condition and how to manage it, especially about how lifestyle changes can affect your symptoms. Exercising and losing weight if you're overweight are important ways to lessen the joint pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis.

  • Exercise. Low-impact exercise can increase your endurance and strengthen the muscles around your joint, making your joint more stable. Try walking, bicycling or water aerobics. If you feel new joint pain, stop.

    New pain that lasts for hours after you exercise probably means you've overdone it, not that you've caused damage or that you should stop exercising. Try again a day or two later at a lower level of intensity.

  • Lose weight. Carrying extra weight increases the stress on your weight-bearing joints, such as your knees and your hips. Even minor weight loss can relieve some pressure and reduce your pain. Talk to a dietitian about healthy ways to lose weight.

Other things to try include:

  • Movement therapies. Tai chi and yoga involve gentle exercises and stretches combined with deep breathing. Many people use these therapies to reduce stress in their lives, and research suggests that tai chi and yoga might reduce osteoarthritis pain and improve movement.

    (Video) Osteoarthritis: Symptoms and Treatment Options at UVA

    Make sure the yoga you choose is a gentle form and that your instructor knows which of your joints are affected. Avoid moves that cause pain in your joints.

  • Heat and cold. Both heat and cold can relieve pain and swelling in your joint. Heat, especially moist heat, can help muscles relax and ease pain. Cold can relieve muscle aches after exercise and decrease muscle spasms.
  • Capsaicin. Topical capsaicin, a chili pepper extract, applied to your skin over an arthritic joint might help. You might have to apply it three to four times a day for several weeks before you see a benefit. Some people can't tolerate the irritation. Wash your hands well after applying capsaicin cream.
  • Braces or shoe inserts. Shoe inserts or other devices might help reduce pain when you stand or walk. These devices can support your joint to help take pressure off it.
  • Assistive devices. Assistive devices can help relieve stress on your joints. A cane or walker take weight off your knee or hip as you walk. Hold the cane in the hand opposite the leg that hurts.

    Tools for gripping and grabbing may make it easier to work in the kitchen if you have osteoarthritis in your fingers. Check catalogs or medical supply stores or ask your doctor or occupational therapist about assistive devices.

Alternative medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine treatments that have shown promise for osteoarthritis include:

  • Acupuncture. Some studies indicate that acupuncture can relieve pain and improve function in people who have knee osteoarthritis. During acupuncture, hair-thin needles are inserted into your skin at precise spots on your body.
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin. Studies have been mixed on these nutritional supplements. A few have found benefits for people with osteoarthritis, while most indicate that these supplements work no better than a placebo. Glucosamine and chondroitin can interact with blood thinners such as warfarin (Jantoven, and cause bleeding problems.
  • Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables. This nutritional supplement — a mixture of avocado and soybean oils — is widely used in Europe to treat knee and hip osteoarthritis. It acts as an anti-inflammatory, and some studies have shown that it can slow or even prevent joint damage.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s, found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements, might help relieve pain and improve function.

Talk to your doctor about supplements you're considering.

More Information

  • Glucosamine: Does it protect cartilage in osteoarthritis?

Coping and support

Your ability to cope despite pain and disability caused by osteoarthritis often determines how much of an impact osteoarthritis will have on your life. Talk to your doctor if you're feeling frustrated, because he or she may have ideas to help you cope or be able to refer you to someone who can help.

Preparing for your appointment

You might start by seeing your primary care doctor, who might refer you to a doctor who specializes in joint disorders (rheumatologist) or orthopedic surgery.

What you can do

Make a list that includes:

  • Detailed descriptions of your symptoms and when they began
  • Information about medical problems you, your parents and your siblings have had
  • All the prescription and over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements you take and the dosages
  • Questions to ask the doctor

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor might ask some of the following questions:

  • Is the pain continuous, or does it come and go?
  • Do any particular activities make the pain better or worse?
  • Have you ever injured this joint?

By Mayo Clinic Staff

(Video) Osteoarthritis, Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment.


What are the diagnosis of osteoarthritis? ›

Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis

Having a physical exam to check your general health, reflexes, and problem joints. Having images taken of your joint using: X-rays, which can show loss of joint space, bone damage, bone remodeling, and bone spurs. Early joint damage does not usually appear on x-rays.

What is the most common treatment for osteoarthritis? ›

The main treatments for the symptoms of osteoarthritis include: lifestyle measures – such as maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly. medication – to relieve your pain. supportive therapies – to help make everyday activities easier.

What is the first line treatment for osteoarthritis? ›

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Over-the-counter NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve), taken at the recommended doses, typically relieve osteoarthritis pain. Stronger NSAIDs are available by prescription.

What is the gold standard for diagnosing osteoarthritis? ›

Radiography is widely accepted as the gold standard for diagnosing osteoarthritis (OA), but it has limitations when assessing early stage OA and monitoring progression.

What happens when you are diagnosed with osteoarthritis? ›

Your doctor will talk to you about medicines which can control symptoms of osteoarthritis, including painkillers. Sometimes a combination of therapies – medicines, exercise, assistive devices or surgery – may be needed to help control your pain.

What should you not do with osteoarthritis? ›

These foods are best avoided or eaten only occasionally.
  • Red meat and fried foods. Fried foods and red meat contain high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are known for stimulating inflammation. ...
  • Sugars. ...
  • Dairy. ...
  • Refined carbohydrates. ...
  • Alcohol and tobacco.
Dec 21, 2020

What is the new treatment for osteoarthritis 2022? ›

A new study, published in Science Translational Medicine by researchers at the University of Oxford has identified that Talarozole, a drug that is known to increase retinoic acid, was able to prevent osteoarthritis (OA) in disease models.

How do you stop osteoarthritis from progressing? ›

Slowing Osteoarthritis Progression
  1. Maintain a Healthy Weight. Excess weight puts additional pressure on weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees. ...
  2. Control Blood Sugar. ...
  3. Get Physical. ...
  4. Protect Joints. ...
  5. Choose a Healthy Lifestyle.

What triggers osteoarthritis? ›

Cause of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage and other tissues within the joint break down or have a change in their structure. This does not happen because of simple wear and tear on the joints. Instead, changes in the tissue can trigger the breakdown, which usually happens gradually over time.

What makes osteoarthritis worse? ›

Increased weight adds stress to weight-bearing joints, such as your hips and knees. Also, fat tissue produces proteins that can cause harmful inflammation in and around your joints. Joint injuries. Injuries, such as those that occur when playing sports or from an accident, can increase the risk of osteoarthritis.

What medication can be given for osteoarthritis? ›

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Aspirin. Aspirin is an OTC NSAID that treats pain and inflammation. ...
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, IBU-Tab) ...
  • Naproxen (Naprosyn) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) ...
  • Diclofenac (Zipsor, Voltaren) and diclofenac-misoprostol (Arthrotec) ...
  • Other prescription NSAIDs for OA.
Jan 18, 2021

What exercises make osteoarthritis worse? ›

With osteoarthritis, it is best to avoid activities that can stress your joints to minimize further joint inflammation and pain.
High-impact activities that can worsen symptoms of osteoarthritis in your hips or knees include:
  • Running.
  • Jumping.
  • Deep squatting and bending.
  • Stair climbing.
  • Hiking.
  • Prolonged standing.
Mar 11, 2022

What are 2 treatments for osteoarthritis? ›

Pain and anti-inflammatory medicines for osteoarthritis are available as pills, syrups, patches, gels, creams or injectables. They include: Analgesics. These are pain relievers and include acetaminophen and opioids.

Does vitamin d3 help with osteoarthritis? ›

Study suggests that patients who suffer from osteoarthritis may get some relief from Vitamin D. Study suggests that patients who suffer from osteoarthritis may get some relief from Vitamin D.

What is the marker for osteoarthritis? ›

A 'burden of disease' marker assesses the severity or extent of OA, typically at a single time point, among affected individuals. In a study of 71 women with OA, levels of CRP, pyridinoline, YKL-40, MMP-3 and TIMP-1 were significantly increased in patients with generalized OA compared to those with knee OA only.

What blood tests are done for osteoarthritis? ›

There are no blood tests that can diagnose OA; however, your doctor may order them to rule out other causes of joint pain and inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout. Joint fluid analysis. Fluid drawn from an affected joint can offer clues as to what is happening in the joint.

Does osteoarthritis have inflammatory markers? ›

Local inflammation plays a prominent role in osteoarthritis (OA). This could be reflected in the presence of elevated soluble inflammatory markers.

What is the average age to be diagnosed with osteoarthritis? ›

Anyone can get osteoarthritis, but it is more common as people age. Women are more likely than men to have osteoarthritis, especially after age 50. Other factors that may make it more likely to develop osteoarthritis include: Overweight or obesity.

What is the safest drug to take for osteoarthritis? ›

Generally, the first medication recommended for osteoarthritis treatment is acetaminophen. It relieves pain but does not reduce inflammation in the body. Acetaminophen is relatively safe, though taking more than the recommended dosage can damage your liver, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

How does osteoarthritis make you feel? ›

The main symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain and stiffness in your joints, which can make it difficult to move the affected joints and do certain activities. The symptoms may come and go in episodes, which can be related to your activity levels and even the weather. In more severe cases, the symptoms can be continuous.

What are the 4 signs of osteoarthritis? ›

Osteoarthritis symptoms often develop slowly and worsen over time.
Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
  • Pain. ...
  • Stiffness. ...
  • Tenderness. ...
  • Loss of flexibility. ...
  • Grating sensation. ...
  • Bone spurs. ...
  • Swelling.
Jun 16, 2021

What is the nursing diagnosis for osteoarthritis? ›

Based on the assessment data, nursing diagnoses are: Acute pain related to inflammation of the synovium and irritation of the nerve endings. Activity intolerance related to joint pain. Impaired physical mobility related to joint stiffness.

What is differential diagnosis of osteoarthritis? ›

The following disorders should also be considered in the differential diagnosis: Crystalline arthropathies (ie, gout and pseudogout) Inflammatory arthritis (eg, rheumatoid arthritis) Seronegative spondyloarthropathies (eg, psoriatic arthritis and reactive arthritis)

Is there a special test for osteoarthritis? ›

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Provides a view that offers better images of cartilage and other structures to detect early abnormalities typical of osteoarthritis.


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