What You Can Do

You don't have to suffer. There are many ways to find relief

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DRUGS There is still no cure for arthritis, but many medications can relieve the pain in stiff joints arthritis

Over-the-counter painkillers: For mild pain, acetaminophen should be your first choice, since it relieves discomfort without damaging the digestive tract. If pain persists, your doctor may recommend aspirin or ibuprofen, which can reduce the swelling and damage due to inflammation; anti-inflammatory drugs, however, can be harsh on the stomach

COX-2 INHIBITORS: These newer analgesics tend to cause fewer stomach problems than traditional anti-inflammatories. But they are expensive, and recent studies have linked them to heart problems

TETRACYCLINE: These antibiotics were designed to kill germs, but they can also slow erosion of the cartilage

HYALURONIC ACID: Injections of this natural lubricant, particularly in the knee, can ease pain for as long as a year

CORTICOSTEROIDS: Shots of steroids, which reduce inflammation, can provide a short-term fix for joint pain. Continued injections, however, can worsen a damaged joint by masking discomfort and enabling you to continue destructive activities. Because their pain is limited to specific joints, osteoarthritis sufferers don't need the wider-ranging effects of corticosteroid pills

SURGERY If pain persists, surgery can either relieve the pressure on joints or replace them altogether

ARTHROSCOPY: In this minimally invasive procedure, doctors clear away dying cartilage and smooth out rough joint connections through slit-size incisions. A recent study suggested that in some cases, arthroscopic surgery was no better than sham surgery; it seems to work best when the joint is still mechanically sound

BONE FUSION: Fusing bones together with pins or plates can eliminate the pain caused by a badly damaged joint; the joint, however, will never bend again

JOINT REPLACEMENT: When the bones in a joint are damaged beyond repair, a substitute joint can in some cases be fashioned out of plastic or metal. Total hip replacement is the most common, but almost any joint, including the knee, thumb, elbow and shoulder, can be replaced

TISSUE REPAIR: Failing joints can cause surrounding muscle, ligaments and tendons to tear or rip away from bones, requiring surgery to reattach or repair them

EXERCISE Moving arthritic joints may hurt, but if you don't exercise them regularly they can permanently freeze up

WATER WORKOUTS: The buoyancy of water can help you move stiff joints without gravity's weight-bearing pressure

RECUMBENT BICYCLE: The reclining position takes the burden off such sensitive joints as the knees and hips

WALKING: If it doesn't hurt too much, walking is one of the best ways to keep joints from seizing up--from the ankles to the shoulders

LOW-IMPACT AEROBICS: Any exercise that doesn't put pounding pressure on the joints can help build up muscle and keep ligaments and tendons flexible enough to give the joints the support they need

ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES If taking standard pain-relief medications makes you uncomfortable, you may want to consider some of these alternative remedies

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