How to Treat Minor Arthritis Pain

You've seen it on television and in magazine ads for over-the-counter treatments for "minor arthritis pain." Is there such a thing as minor arthritis pain? Many people believe that arthritis is minor—especially osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to get a little more respect because it's generally thought of as "crippling."

Man describing hand pain to his doctor
Hero Images / Getty Images

So, what is minor arthritis pain—or is minor arthritis pain a misnomer?

Minor or Mild Arthritis Pain

"Minor" usually implies insignificance—something that's more an annoyance than something serious. Minor also seems to imply that it doesn't require any attention—and that's where the problem begins to snowball if you ask me.

The first symptoms of osteoarthritis usually include joint pain and joint stiffness. It may seem like a minor ache or pain—but if it persists, you should see a healthcare provider for an evaluation. Osteoarthritis symptoms are assessed and classified as mild, moderate, or severe. Mild would be the more appropriate term for what many call minor.

Mild arthritis symptoms could be from several different conditions, most of which need to be diagnosed and treated early for the best results. These can include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gouty arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and systemic sclerosis. This is an excellent reason to get a check-up and discuss any minor arthritis pain with your healthcare provider.

Getting Help for Early Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Most people try to self-treat their first symptoms of osteoarthritis. But symptoms can persist and it is important to see a healthcare provider who will offer an accurate diagnosis and decide on your treatment plan.

Patients may delay seeing a healthcare provider because their symptoms are mild and they don't want the expense of an examination and possibly being prescribed expensive drugs. On the other hand, if over-the-counter medication is recommended, they may think the visit wasn't of much value. But early diagnosis and monitoring are important to rule out serious conditions and to recommend self-treatment options and lifestyle modifications.

Once you visit a healthcare provider and they make a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, there are several treatment options. For mild symptoms, conservative treatments are typically tried first—as you would expect. It is standard practice to treat mild osteoarthritis with acetaminophen at first and add in an NSAID if needed. A survey of 259 orthopedic surgeons found that 97 percent of them believed that over-the-counter medications can be an effective alternative to prescription medication when a patient is experiencing minor arthritis pain.

Non-Drug Tactics for Minor Arthritis Pain

Besides treatment with medication, whether over-the-counter or prescription, there are many non-drug treatments and life hacks that can be used for minor arthritis pain. Stay active with exercise, including aerobic exercise, muscle-strengthening exercise, and range-of-motion exercise. For people who are overweight, losing weight can often lessen minor arthritis pain, especially for knee osteoarthritis.

Early Diagnosis and Relief for Minor Arthritis Pain

Osteoarthritis has the potential to cause chronic pain and disability—even affecting your quality of life. Early symptoms can be mild, but over time, the symptoms may increase in severity. Even patients who find relief for early, mild osteoarthritis symptoms should be followed by a healthcare provider and be aware of the potential for worsening symptoms.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer who covers arthritis and chronic illness. She is the author of "The Everything Health Guide to Arthritis."