Is osteoarthritis reversible?

Ask the doctors

Q. I recently started experiencing a lot of pain in my hand from osteoarthritis. Can I reverse this condition?

A. You can't reverse osteoarthritis, but there are things you can do to manage your pain and improve your symptoms. Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that acts as cushioning between your bones starts to fray and wear down over time. Eventually this enables the bones to rub together, which causes the pain you are experiencing as well as swelling and stiffness that makes it difficult to move your hand freely. Typically, when you have arthritis, the pain and symptoms will be worse at some times than at others. You may experience a flare-up one day and feel better the next. To help reduce the discomfort of a flare-up, talk to your doctor about medication to relieve pain. She or he may recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever. Some people also get symptom relief using a topical pain reliever that is rubbed into the skin. Other strategies that can ease pain are splints or braces, heat or cold therapy, activity modification, and exercises or physical therapy to increase flexibility and strengthen your hand muscles.

— by Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Toni Golen, M.D.
Editors in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Image: michellegibson/Getty Images

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