Joint Problems

Care & Treatment

Visit the Arthritis topic for more information on osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.

Effective treatment of joint problems could involve:

  • A combination of medications and non-drug therapies.
  • Physical activity.
  • Rehabilitation after surgery. 


The following types of medication are used to treat joint problems: 

  • Pain medications.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which are used both for pain and to reduce swelling. NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

These medications are dangerous because they can have serious side effects. Older adults should avoid NSAIDs if possible. Interactions with other drugs can be dangerous too. Topical NSAIDs may be preferable used compared to oral NSAIDs

  • Topical medications, including creams, gels, or ointments that may have an NSAID, menthol, or capsaicin (an extract of hot peppers).
  • Corticosteroids (such as prednisone and cortisone) reduce swelling and suppress the immune system. A person may get them orally or injected into the joint. Side effects of long-term use include infections, ligament weakness, and bone loss.
  • Antidepressants are sometimes help with fibromyalgia.
  • Muscle relaxants may be useful.
NSAIDs can be dangerous.  Acetaminophen overdose can damage the kidneys or liver, particularly in older people. Muscle relaxants can increase risk of confusion or falls. If older adults utilize these medicines, follow the prescribed directions carefully and report any side effects.




Non-drug Treatments


Exercise strengthens weakened muscles and moves the joints. This can increase joint mobility and reduce pain. The earlier a person gets started, the better. Therapy may last from a few weeks to many months.

People need exercise programs that meet their individual needs. Exercises can include:

  • Walking.
  • Swimming.
  • Stretching and resistance training.
  • Yoga and tai chi (exercise programs that use stretching, slow movements, and balance) .  

Other possible treatments:

  • Lose weight, if necessary.
  • Apply heating pads or ice packs a couple of times a day for up to 20 minutes each time. Make sure that the ice or heat is not next to the skin. Make sure these treatments are not damaging the skin.
  • Wear splints or braces, if necessary.
  • Use aids or devices (such as a cane or modified shoes) to help keep weight off a hip, knee, or other weight-bearing joints.
  • Stop or change any repeated movements that affect the joint.
  • Get further education about the condition and talk therapy, if needed. This helps with fibromyalgia.
  • Massage
  • Hyaluronic acid injections for knee arthritis. This helps some people and side effects are often limited.
  • Osteopathic manipulative medicine: through Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment, or OMT, osteopathic physicians (D.O.s) use their hands to diagnose illness and injury and encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing. Using OMT, an osteopathic physician can effectively treat muscles and joints to relieve pain, promote healing and increase overall mobility. OMT is often used to treat muscle pain, but it can also help provide relief for patients with asthma, sinus disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome and migraines. In many cases, OMT can be used to complement, or even replace, drugs or surgery.

If you feel more aches and pains at night, you may have exercised too much during the day. Do not overdo it.


A healthcare professional may suggest surgery and refer a person to an orthopedic surgeon after carefully weighing risks and benefits. Five common types of surgery are: 

Joint Fusion

In this operation, the ends of the bones in the affected joint are removed and the two bones are fused together. The joint can't bend after fusion surgery. However, the pain and deformity will improve.  

Joint Replacement

Larger joints can often be partially or completely replaced. The most common replacements are in the knee and hip. People get pain relief and can move easily again. These changes last for about 15 years.

If pain causes lack of sleep or prevents daily activities, surgery may be needed. Exercising before surgery will strengthen muscles and result in a quicker rehabilitation and recovery.

Even people age 80 and over can get good results from replacements. Their health has to be good enough to have the surgery and do the necessary physical or occupational therapy afterward.

Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

Some knee disabilities like locking, swelling, weakness, and pain result from damaged cartilage in the joint.

In an arthroscopic procedure, only a couple of tiny incisions are needed to clean up the problem. Almost no damage happens in nearby tissues.  

Rotator Cuff or Frozen Shoulder Repair

Surgery to the rotator cuff may be needed if it has a tear, or if the shoulder is frozen. Surgery can be needed when rest and physical therapy don’t work. 


Rehabilitation may help a person get back to their earlier abilities and return home.

Surgery may require a person to recover in a rehabilitation facility of some kind. This depends on:

  • The type of surgery.
  • A person’s health.
  • Availability of caregivers and a supportive environment at home.

Those who have had hip or knee replacements often spend some time in a rehabilitation center. 

Home care may be necessary after time in center. The home care nurse will schedule visits from a physical therapist, occupational therapist, social worker, and other healthcare professionals. 


People with joint problems need regular evaluation. Ignoring pain or other symptoms may cause lasting damage that a person could have avoided.

Last Updated May 2023

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