Non-Surgical Treatments for Joint


There are a variety of effective treatment options for joint pain that don't require surgery. Generally, non-surgical treatments use a combination of these approaches:

Anti-Inflammatory Medications

There are two types of anti-inflammatory medications that can be used to reduce inflammation, swelling and pain -- non-steroidal and steroids.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce inflammation and pain by blocking the production of chemicals in the body that cause inflammation. Possible side effects from these drugs include stomach pain, heartburn, stomach ulcers, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and general bleeding.

You can purchase some NSAIDs over the counter. Generic medication names are listed first followed by brand names.

  • Ibuprofen – Advil, Nuprin, Motrin
  • Naproxen sodium – Aleve  
  • Aspirin – Ascriptin, Bayer, Ecotrin

You will need a prescription from your doctor for these higher-dose NSAIDs:

  • Oxaprozin – Daypro
  • Naproxen – Naprosyn

A new classification of NSAIDs, called Cox-2 inhibitors, can also be effective in decreasing pain. They are less likely to cause side effects. A prescription is necessary for Celebrex (generic name is celecoxib), the only Cox-2 inhibitor available in the US.


Corticosteroids, such as prednisone and cortisone, are the most commonly prescribed steroids. These drugs simulate cortisol, the naturally occurring, anti-inflammatory hormone produced by your adrenal glands. A doctor may prescribe corticosteroids if NSAIDs are not effective. They can be injected or taken orally.

There can be problems related to ongoing steroid treatment. Hormonal imbalances can occur from taking doses greater than your body's natural production of cortisol. Side effects -- which can include high blood pressure, insomnia and bruising -- are more likely to occur with oral steroids.


Synvisc, the brand name of hyaluronan, can relieve pain and stiffness caused by arthritis and delay the need for joint replacement surgery. Hyaluronan is a natural component of normal joint fluid that lubricates joints.

This treatment typically requires a series of three injections into the joint, one week apart. Synvisc can alleviate arthritis symptoms for up to six months. Synvisc injections don’t produce serious side effects. Mild flare-ups of inflammation may occur in a treated joint, but usually settle down within a few days.

Other brand names of hyaluronan include Orthovisc, Euflexxa, and Supartz.

Consult your primary care physician or an orthopedist for more guidance about anti-inflammatory medication treatments.

Exercise and Physical Therapy

Exercise and physical therapy may relieve your joint pain by improving the strength and flexibility of your joint and leg muscles. Exercise programs can include riding a stationary bike, light weight training and flexibility work outs.

A specially-trained physical therapist can work with you and your orthopedist to develop an effective, personalized care plan. A therapist can also help you stay on track to achieve long-term results for many conditions that limit your ability to move. Boulder Community Health offers two physical therapy options.

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