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HealthInfo Canterbury

Treatments for osteoarthritis

There are several ways to help manage your osteoarthritis.

Losing weight and increasing activity

Being overweight can make osteoarthritis, especially of your hip or knee, more difficult to manage.

Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce your pain and allow you to do the things you want to do.

Keeping active can help you manage your weight and reduce your pain. Any type of exercise that you enjoy is a good option for osteoarthritis. Something that gets you puffing a bit and keeps the joint affected by arthritis moving and strong is ideal.

Good options include cycling, Tai chi, walking, and water-based activities such as aqua-jogging.

If you're finding it difficult to lose weight, speak to your GP about what services and options could help.

Physiotherapy and podiatry

A physiotherapist can assess your joints and work with you to develop a programme that strengthens and stabilises your joints. If you're eligible, your GP can refer you to a physiotherapist in the community.

You may prefer to pay to see a physiotherapist privately.

Podiatrists and physiotherapists can look at how you're moving and walking. If your joint is in an abnormal position, joint supports or orthotics in your shoes might to help to reduce the load on your joints. This might help you to walk longer distances.


There are many types of medications available for osteoarthritis. Oral pain relievers include paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or NSAIDs, and codeine products. There are also topical (rub on) pain relievers, steroid pills, and other specialist medications. Some are available over the counter at your pharmacy, and others you can only get on prescription from your doctor.

Your health professional will discuss medications and advise what's most appropriate for you. Never take more than the recommended or prescribed dose.

Steroid injections

In some people with severe osteoarthritis flare-ups, a steroid injection can provide pain relief for up to three months. This can be helpful when doing an exercise program or waiting for joint replacement surgery.

But steroid injections are not suitable for everyone and they are not normally recommended for people with osteoporosis.

If you do need a steroid injection, your GP may be able to do it. Otherwise, they may refer you to another GP or to the Community Based Musculoskeletal Service.

Capsaicin cream (Zostrix)

This cream blocks the nerves causing pain. Usually, you'll first feel a warm, almost burning, sensation but this quickly eases.

The cream irritates some people's skin, so stop using it and see your GP if this happens to you. See DermNet NZ – Capsaicin for more information about capsaicin cream.


There are supplements that are popular for relieving symptoms of osteoarthritis. Glucosamine, chondroitin and fish oils are some of the most commonly used. Studies looking at how effective these are show varied results.

Check with your GP or pharmacist to make sure a supplement is safe for you to take and won't interact with other medications. You may want to consider using a supplement if you find it useful, if you can afford to buy it and if it's safe for you.


If you have osteoarthritis and your doctor thinks you might need a hip or knee replacement, they'll refer you to a specialist. If you meet the criteria, you'll be assessed by the specialist to decide if a joint replacement is the right treatment for you.

If you don't meet the criteria for a joint replacement, you may be referred to a dietitian for support to lose weight, physiotherapy, a mobility action programme, or green prescription.

On the next page: Aids for people with osteoarthritis

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by rheumatologist, Department of Rheumatology, Immunology & Allergy, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed December 2017. Last updated July 2019.

See also:

Hip & knee replacement

Mobility action programmes for osteoarthritis


Page reference: 5887

Review key: HIOST-35589