Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that causes the tissues in the joints to break down. It is different from osteoporosis, which is a condition that causes the bones to become brittle.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that of the more than 100 types of arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common, affecting more than 32.5 million adults in the United States. Under the age of 45, it is more common in men. Over the age of 45, it is more common in women.

Share on Pinterest
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It’s caused by degeneration of the joint over time. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system damages the affected joints.
Illustration by Sophia Smith

Though each person may experience osteoarthritis differently, you’ll commonly have increased joint pain and stiffness in your hands, knees, hips, neck, or lower back. While a 2020 study suggests that it isn’t possible to cure or reverse osteoarthritis, there are treatments that can help you manage the symptoms.

To ease osteoarthritis pain and stiffness, you can turn to both medical treatments and home remedies. Typically, treatment relies on a combination of conventional medicine and lifestyle changes. While medications can treat pain, they can also cause side effects when you take them long term.

Home remedies aren’t meant to completely replace medical treatments, but they may be able to help you manage osteoarthritis pain with fewer side effects. In fact, 2015 research shows that lifestyle changes and natural remedies can be very important in helping you keep the symptoms at bay.

It’s important to discuss home remedies and lifestyle changes with your doctor before trying them. Here are a few home remedies to consider:

When it comes to pain, hot and cold compresses may be very beneficial. They don’t cause the long-term side effects that medications might. Hot compresses are helpful for joint stiffness, and cold compresses are best for joint pain.

The Arthritis Foundation says that heat helps soothe stiff joints and relax muscles, while cold helps numb sharp pain and reduce inflammation.

Compresses can reduce muscle pain or spasms surrounding a joint. Making a compress can be as simple as using a warm or cold towel.

Find out how to make a cold compress.

Epsom salt baths can provide all-over relief, especially for joint pain. The magnesium in Epsom salt may help with inflammation and pain. A 2017 review showed that soaking in an Epsom salt bath for a prolonged time may increase your magnesium levels.

You can buy Epsom salt from a drugstore. According to the Epsom Salt Council, these baths are safe enough to take as often as you’d like for 30 minutes at a time. Use up to 3 cups of Epsom salt in a bath of warm water.

You may want to try topical versions as an alternative to oral over-the-counter (OTC) medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

These gels and creams may contain aspirin or other pain relievers to numb the pain. You can apply them directly to the affected joints. These products can work well for areas that are near the skin surface, such as your knees.

An example of such a gel is diclofenac (Voltaren), a topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). According to a 2020 review, it provides a pain-relieving effect.

Another topical home remedy is capsaicin. Capsaicin is a compound made from hot chili peppers. A 2014 review suggests it works best when you apply it to painful joints three to four times per day. To avoid accidental eye exposure, wash hands after each use.

You may also want to try other ointments like Tiger Balm. Talk with your doctor before experimenting with any of these products.

Read more about the best pain creams for arthritis.

The Arthritis Foundation says that various types of assistive devices can offer added support without the need for medications. The exact devices you choose depend on the affected joints. According to a 2018 review, options include:

  • braces
  • canes
  • grabbing or gripping tools
  • knee taping (be sure to have your doctor or physical therapist show you first)
  • shoe inserts

Find out what’s the best brace for osteoarthritis.

Herbal remedies are increasing in popularity for conditions like osteoarthritis. Some people believe they may be safer since they have fewer side effects compared with traditional medications.

Talk with your doctor about the following natural remedies. “Natural” herbal supplements can carry side effects and interact with medications you might take. Always be sure to buy supplements from a reputable source.

Green tea

Green tea contains polyphenols. A 2021 review suggests these compounds may help lower inflammation and the need for medications.

A small 2018 study on the use of green tea in treating knee osteoarthritis showed that the tea can help with joint function, but more research is needed to verify these results.

Due to the risk of liver problems and side effects from concentrated amounts, it’s best to drink green tea in moderation.

Ginger

Oral ginger is also noted for reducing pain from osteoarthritis. According to a 2015 study, taking ginger long-term may even decrease the risk of osteoarthritis-related disability.

Due to the risk of side effects, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health recommends using ginger moderately as a spice instead of in supplement forms.

Learn how to make ginger tea for the benefits.

The biggest risk to ginger overdose is the withdrawal symptoms. Ginger can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, and heartburn. It may also interact with prescription medications, like warfarin, because it’s an anticoagulant, or blood thinner. Speak with your doctor before adding or increasing your consumption of ginger.

Turmeric and curcumin

Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric. It’s part of the ginger family but may help osteoarthritis in different ways. A 2016 study on mice with osteoarthritis showed that curcumin may be able to slow disease progression and provide pain relief. However, a 2017 review of clinical studies on humans did not find the same conclusive results. More research is needed to verify the effect.

If you want to try turmeric as a natural treatment, the Arthritis Foundation recommends using curcumin extract, as whole curcumin may be contaminated with lead. Take 500 milligrams twice daily. While turmeric is generally safe, it can cause nausea and may interact with blood thinners.

Read more about adding turmeric to your diet.

For more long-term relief, lifestyle changes are often effective. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and weight maintenance can help improve joint health and function. Over time, the muscles stabilizing your joints will strengthen and protect against damage.

Stay active

Exercise can be difficult with painful joints. But staying active can reduce pain in the long run, and even strengthen muscles to prevent further joint damage. The Arthritis Foundation says exercise is “the most effective, non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in patients with osteoarthritis.”

The best types of exercise for osteoarthritis use slight resistance, improve flexibility, offer an aerobic element, and are low impact. Options include:

  • bike riding
  • swimming
  • tai chi
  • walking
  • yoga

Talk with your doctor before starting any new exercises, especially if you haven’t been active before. The Arthritis Foundation recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise every week at a moderate intensity or 75 minutes at a higher intensity. You can also start with shorter periods of exercise and add time as you get stronger.

For example, you could start walking for 10 minutes and gradually increase the speed and length of your walks. If you’re new to exercise, you may find slight pain after your workouts. This could mean you need to take 1 or 2 days off and then resume your workout regimen. Don’t quit exercising altogether.

Eat osteoarthritis-friendly foods

Eating a balanced diet can help you feel better and lose weight. Research shows that certain foods are especially beneficial for osteoarthritis. In particular, eating a Mediterranean diet may help you consume the right things and avoid foods that may make your symptoms worse.

According to a small 2020 study, vegetables like broccoli, spinach, lettuce, kale, and cabbage are rich in vitamin K and have anti-inflammatory properties. The Arthritis Foundation also says that while the evidence is not completely conclusive, consuming dairy products with calcium and vitamin D may promote joint and bone health. However, dairy also contains casein, which is an ingredient some people may need to avoid.

In addition, good foods to eat include nuts and plant-based oils. An example from a 2018 review is olive oil. Another good food is fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel.

On the flip side, the Arthritis Foundation says that certain foods can aggravate osteoarthritis symptoms by increasing body inflammation. These foods include:

  • alcohol
  • aspartame, an artificial sweetener
  • salt
  • saturated and trans fat
  • omega-6 fatty acids
  • sugar
  • refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, or rice
  • foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • gluten
  • casein

Maintain a moderate weight

According to the Arthritis Foundation, weight loss can go a long way in alleviating joint pain and preventing osteoarthritis.

Maintaining a moderate weight can help you keep excessive pressure away from your joints, as well as help reduce pain and inflammation.

This may be particularly helpful for people with symptoms in their knees and hips, as these joints bear a lot of weight.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic, or lifelong, condition with no cure. Managing your condition and symptoms can go a long way in stopping further damage to your joints. Lifestyle changes and home and natural remedies can complement your treatment plan. They may even provide extra relief.

While such changes can make a big difference, it’s important to know when you need to contact your doctor. You might need to make an appointment if you have a flare-up, your symptoms get worse, or your current treatment plan isn’t helping. Your doctor should check your joint pain and stiffness for potential damage.

Read more about treatments for osteoarthritis.