Osteoarthritis (also called degenerative joint disease) happens when the cartilage in a joint becomes damaged and worn. This may be due to age, wear and tear, overuse of the joint, or other problems. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint. But it is most common in hands, knees, spine, hips, and feet. Symptoms include joint stiffness, pain, and swelling.

Home care

  • When a joint is more sore than usual, rest it for a day or two.

  • Heat can help relieve stiffness. Take a hot bath or apply a heating pad for up to 30 minutes at a time. If symptoms are worse in the morning, using heat just after awakening can help relax the muscle and soothe the joints. 

  • Ice helps relieve pain and swelling. It is often used after activity. Use a cold pack wrapped in a thin cloth on the joint for 10-15 minutes at a time. 

  • Alternating hot and cold can also help relieve pain. Try this for 20 minutes at a time, several times per day.

  • Exercise helps prevent the muscles and ligaments around the joint from becoming weak. It also helps maintain function in the joint.  Be as active as you can. Talk to your doctor about what activity program is best for you.

  • Excess weight puts a lot of extra strain on weight-bearing joints of the lower back, hips, knees, feet and ankles. If you are overweight, talk to your doctor about a safe and effective weight loss program.

  • Use anti-inflammatory medications as prescribed for pain. This incudes acetaminophen or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen. If needed, topical or injected medications may be recommended. Talk to your doctor if these options are not enough to manage your pain.

  • Talk with your doctor about devices that might help improve your function and reduce pain.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your doctor as advised by our staff.

When to seek medical attention

Call your doctor right away if any of the following occur:

  • Redness or swelling of a painful joint

  • Discharge or pus from a painful joint

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Worsening joint pain

  • Decreased ability to move the joint or bear weight on the joint