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What is the treatment of arthritis?

In the case of inflammatory arthritis, the sooner drug therapies are begun the more effective they’re likely to be. This can reduce the risk of long-term damage to joints and bones.

Drug therapy can be divided into two main groups:

drugs that treat the symptoms of arthritis (for example pain and stiffness)
treatments that suppress inflammatory disease and may improve the outcome.
Drugs may be available under different names. Each drug will have an approved (scientific) name – these are the names we use in these pages. But different manufacturers may give their own brand or trade name to a drug – for example, Voltarol is a brand name for diclofenac.

Unfortunately there’s no effective treatment that doesn’t occasionally cause side-effects. Minor side-effects aren’t uncommon but serious side-effects are rare. For more information on the possible side effects follow the links below for the different types of drugs.

Often your doctor will recommend a course of physical therapies to help you overcome some of the symptoms of your arthritis. These may include any or all of the following:

hydrotherapy – exercises in a warm-water pool. The water supports your weight and therefore puts less pressure on your muscles and joints.
physiotherapy – helps to improve your general fitness and muscle strength, through specific exercises tailored to your condition and individual needs. It can be combined with pain-relieving treatments such as ice or heat packs and massage.
occupational therapy – practical advice on managing everyday tasks, choosing specialised aids and equipment, protecting your joints from further damage and managing fatigue.

Surgery for arthritis

Surgery may be necessary and advisable if the damage to your joint is severe enough to cause difficulties in your everyday life, and when other treatment isn’t reducing the pain. Joint replacements are now very sophisticated and successful. Many different joints, including hip, knee, shoulder and elbow, are routinely replaced in people with advanced arthritis. There are also a number of other pain-relieving or reconstructive operations which can be helpful.

Some surgery can be performed with needles and implements without fully opening the joint up. This is called arthroscopy or is sometimes referred to as keyhole surgery. The surgeon will make small (less than 1 cm) incisions to allow a special light and camera to look at the inside of a joint. This can be seen by the surgeon on a television screen. Arthroscopy can be used to help with diagnosis or can form part of treatment.