Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Treating osteoarthritis

Te whakarauora i te pona ngoikore

Osteoarthritis cannot be cured but there are ways to reduce your pain and help you move better.


The most effective treatments for osteoarthritis are ones you can do yourself. See Self-care for osteoarthritis.

Mobility action programme

If osteoarthritis affects your knee or hip, your general practice team can refer you to the mobility action programme (MAP). An allied health professional such as a chiropractor, osteopath, physiotherapist or podiatrist can also refer you. MAP is a free eight-week programme. It has been shown to help people move more easily and be able to do more in their everyday lives.

Physiotherapy and podiatry

A physiotherapist can assess your joints. They can also work with you to develop a programme that strengthens and stabilises your joints. If you are eligible, your general practice team can refer you to a physiotherapist in the community.

You may prefer to pay to see a physiotherapist privately.

Podiatrists can look at how you are moving and walking. If your joint is in an abnormal position, they might recommend joint supports or orthotics in your shoes. These can 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-inflammatory drugs (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. You need a prescription from your general practice team for others.

Your health professional will discuss medications with you and advise what is 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 3 months. This can be helpful when doing an exercise program or waiting for joint replacement surgery.

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

If you do need a steroid injection, your general practice team may be able to do it. Otherwise, they may refer you to another general practice team. They might also refer you to the Community Musculoskeletal Service at Burwood Hospital.

Capsaicin cream (Zostrix)

Capsaicin cream blocks the nerves causing pain. You will usually feel a warm almost burning sensation at first, but this quickly eases.

It the cream irritates your skin, stop using it and see your general practice team. DermNet NZ has more information about capsaicin cream.

Complementary and alternative therapies

There are many complementary and alternative therapies that are popular for relieving symptoms of osteoarthritis. These include:

We know that acupuncture and some manual therapies may help some people to manage their osteoarthritis. The studies looking at how effective supplements and herbal medicines show varied results. For more information see Complementary Therapies and Products from Arthritis New Zealand.

Check with your general practice team or pharmacist before you try a complementary or alternative therapy. They will advise if it is safe for you and will not interact with other medications or treatments.


If your osteoarthritis is causing you severe symptoms and has not improved with other treatments, you might be suitable for surgery.

If your doctor thinks you might need a hip or knee replacement, they will refer you to a specialist. If you meet the criteria, the specialist will assess you to decide if a joint replacement is the right treatment for you.

If you do not meet the criteria for a joint replacement, you may be given information about Support for getting active. Or you might be referred to physiotherapy, a mobility action programme or a dietitian for support to lose weight.

On the next page: Aids for people with osteoarthritis

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2024.


See also:

Hip & knee replacement

Mobility action programmes for osteoarthritis

Page reference: 5887

Review key: HIOST-35589