Arthritis is inflammation of a joint, or multiple joints, and causes pain and swelling. There are more than 100 kinds of arthritis, affecting more than 54 million adults in the United States.

The most common by far is osteoarthritis (OA), which affects more than 32 million adults in the United States.

Other types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis (PsA), and gout. You can have a mild, moderate, or severe case of any type. The joint changes that result from inflammation can’t be reversed completely or eliminated.

You can’t reverse your arthritis, but certain treatments can help slow the progression of the disease and help you manage your condition.

Getting the right kind of treatment can ease your pain and help you maintain or even improve function, which will enable you to carry out daily activities.


Osteoarthritis develops over time. As you age, the cartilage that provides a cushion between the bones of your joints begins to break down and wear away. When that cartilage is gone, your bones rub together, which causes pain and swelling and sometimes joint stiffness.

Unfortunately, just as you can’t reverse time, you really can’t reverse OA. However, you can manage that pain and maintain your flexibility and range of motion.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that’s more likely to develop in women, and it’s more prevalent with age.

It can begin slowly but it can cause significant pain and stiffness in the affected joints over time. The joints most likely to be affected are those in your hands, wrists, and feet.

Like other forms of arthritis, RA can’t be reversed. Even if you show evidence of low inflammation and your joints aren’t swollen and tender, your doctor may want you to continue taking some medication to avoid a flare of the disease.

With the right combination of treatments, RA can go into remission. Remission means that your body isn’t showing any active evidence of disease.

Other types

While OA and RA are the two main types of arthritis, there are other types of arthritis, including:

Like the more common forms of arthritis, these can be managed when properly diagnosed, but it can take some trial and error to find the right combination that meets your needs.

Treatment will depend on the type of arthritis you have.


With OA, your best bet to slow progression is reducing the strain you put on the joint. You can do this either by maintaining a moderate weight or by using a splint or brace to support the joint, or possibly both.

Many experts also suggest regular exercise and using pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Rheumatoid arthritis

With RA, the goal is also to slow the progression of the disease. This means slowing down the damage that occurs in the joints, resulting in improved function and a better quality of life.

People now have access to a growing number of therapies that can target the specific pathways that cause pain and inflammation in the joints.

For example, doctors now recommend that people with RA receive treatment from the category of drugs known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

These medications work by interfering with proteins and chemicals responsible for inflammation and pain. They can slow down the course of the disease and reduce the symptoms you experience. They prevent joint damage, which can occur and get progressively worse if not treated.

Research suggests that using a combination of a conventional type of DMARD and a biologic version is likely to be more effective than just using one of these medications by itself.

Other forms of arthritis

If you have another form of arthritis, your doctor may recommend some of these same medications. NSAIDs are often recommended to help people with various forms of arthritis cope with pain caused by their condition.

DMARDs are also used to treat other types of arthritis, like PsA and ankylosing spondylitis. Doctors often prescribe corticosteroids for people with various forms of arthritis because they can decrease inflammation.

However, more specific treatments are required for some types of arthritis. For example, someone with gout might need to take a drug that lowers the body’s levels of uric acid. A buildup of uric acid crystals is what causes joint pain and swelling.

Another example is someone with PsA who may need anti-inflammatory medications, such as a DMARD or a biologic drug. They may also need topical creams or light therapy to address the skin disease that can occur with PsA.

If you have arthritis, you may want to schedule workouts on a regular basis. Research suggests that exercise can offer many benefits for you.

Exercise can strengthen your muscles, especially the ones that surround and stabilize your joints. It can also reduce pain and stiffness.

Another benefit of exercise is helping you maintain or even improve your range of motion. This can enhance your quality of life, by allowing you to be more physically active.

Research backs this up:

  • A 2003 study showed that a regular exercise program helped older adults with OA and RA remain functional.
  • A 2011 study showed that exercise can improve function, along with numerous other benefits, for people with RA.

If you’re concerned about injury prevention, talk with a physical therapist to learn more about ways to protect your joints while you’re working out.

Most people associate arthritis with pain. It’s one of the defining symptoms of the disease. Your doctor may suggest taking a pain reliever like acetaminophen or an NSAID like ibuprofen or naproxen.

Other pain-relieving strategies include:

  • applying moist warmth to the inflamed joint with a heating pad, wrap, or patch
  • cold therapy to reduce pain and swelling in the affected area
  • activity modification to reduce strain on the joint
  • braces or splints to support the joint

For some people, prescription pain medications may be necessary. Talk with your doctor about what’s best for you.

If you’ve been using a particular management strategy for your arthritis, but you feel like it’s not working as effectively as it once did, contact your doctor. It’s possible that you will have more success with a different type of treatment.

If your symptoms are worsening or new symptoms develop, that’s another opportunity to discuss other treatment options with your provider.

Arthritis can’t be reversed, but it can be managed. If you have arthritis, but you don’t feel like your current treatment is working, call your doctor. You may need to try a different type of treatment.

With the right kind of care, you can manage your arthritis and live a productive life.