Can Osteoarthritis Be Reversed?

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Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition that results when cartilage between the bones of joints breaks down causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. The damage, which is most often a result of aging or injury, cannot be reversed, but the symptoms it causes can be managed and the progression of the condition sometimes can be slowed with proper treatment.

osteoarthritis of the knee

Dr. P. Marazzi / Getty Images

Nutrition

A healthy and varied diet that provides adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients is vital for overall joint health. There's even research showing that a whole-food, plant-based diet centered on fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, and legumes may help relieve symptoms of OA.

Weight and OA

Weight control is an important component of managing OA. When you're walking, your knees and hips carry three to four times the weight of your body. Losing even a modest amount of weight can have a significant and positive impact on pain.

Chondroprotective Nutrients

Chondroprotective nutrients are found in common foods and spices. They are believed to help protect cartilage and joints and include:

  • Compounds derived from green tea
  • Rosehips
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Pomegranate

Preliminary studies show that the polyphenols, phytoflavonoids, and bioflavonoids contained in these foods may help relieve pain and improve mobility. They also show promise in slowing the progression of the disease.

Although popular, there are two chondroprotective nutrients that have been found not helpful for treating certain types of OA: glucosamine and chondroitin. The 2019 American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation guideline for the management of osteoarthritis of the hand, hip, and knee strongly recommends against them for hand, knee, and/or hip OA, with the exception of chondroitin for hand arthritis, which is conditionally recommended.

Since it is possible for supplements to interact with other medications, talk to your doctor before trying any chondroprotective nutrients. 

Exercise

Physical activity can play an effective role in managing OA. Regular exercise can relieve pain, stiffness, and swelling, improve mobility, and may even help slow down progression of the condition.

Most health authorities recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. It's advisable to include a variety of types of activity in a regular workout program, including:

  • Strength training to build muscles
  • Stretching to reduce stiffness
  • Cardio to lower weight and increase stamina
  • Balance exercises to build strength

Although walking is a popular exercise for OA, current research is not sufficient to recommend that a specific form of physical activity is right for every individual with OA. It is more important to find an exercise routine that works for you and that you can do on a regular basis.

Additionally, research has shown that exercise programs for OA are more effective if they are supervised. You may want to consider taking a class or hiring a personal trainer.

Joint Support

Supportive gear for joints can help manage arthritis symptoms. Among those most often used for this purpose:

  • Wraps
  • Braces
  • Canes
  • Crutches
  • Walkers
  • Shoe inserts

Such devices should be fitted by a professional.

Assistive devices can also include products for your home that help you complete tasks like cooking or cleaning. For example, you can purchase utensils with special grips and handles, so they are easier to hold. Other devices include zipper pulls, button aids, handrails, and gripping tools. 

Medications

In addition to over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for relieving pain, prescription drugs are sometimes used to help manage OA. Consult your doctor to determine the best medications for you.

Medications used for treating OA include:

  • OTC or prescription-strength NSAIDs such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen 
  • Acetaminophen
  • Topical counterirritants such as capsaicin, menthol, and lidocaine
  • Steroid injections 

In clinical trials, medications known as disease-modifying OA drugs (DMOADs) have shown promise in managing arthritis, slowing its progression, and potentially regenerating or repairing damaged cartilage. For example, in studies, a DMOAD called sprifermin has been found to potentially increase the thickness of knee cartilage.  

Surgery 

Surgery to repair or replace an arthritic joint may improve mobility and function. It cannot, however, guarantee complete relief from all OA symptoms and is usually only considered for severe cases of OA when other treatment options are inadequate.

Do Not Ignore Your OA Symptoms

While there is hope in managing OA, it is a degenerative condition. If ignored and left untreated, it will get worse with time. Arthritis is a significant cause of disability among adults, so don't hesitate to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

A Word From Verywell

Although you cannot reverse OA, it is possible to manage it and slow down its progression. Before you try any treatment or supplement, you should discuss them with your doctor. Some products can interfere with your medications and cause side effects. 

Researchers continue to study potential treatment options for OA, and they are looking for ways to reverse the disease. There is hope for better alternatives in the future. 

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