Non-Surgical Treatments of Degenerative Joint Disease

By: Eric B. Pifel, MD

Degenerative joint disease is the most common chronic condition of the joints and occurs most often in knees, hips, lower back and neck, small joints of the fingers, and the bases of the thumb and big toe.

Treating Degenerative Joint Disease

There are many non-surgical treatments for degenerative joint disease. Most sufferers of osteoarthritis try a variety of options to ease symptoms, including icing, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroid injections, therapy, bracing, massage, and acupuncture. These treatments, however, only alleviate pain for a short period of time.

Surgery can be an option for arthritic joints, but there are some other interventions that may be able to offer relief prior to surgery.


Approved for use in the knee (but can also be used in other joints), Viscosupplementation includes a series of three injections of fluid similar to joint fluid. It is typically covered by insurance when used for the knee and improves outcomes for 65-70 percent of people with mild to moderate osteoarthritis. This is not typically used for rheumatologic disease.

Platelet Rich Plasma

Platelent Rich Plasma is an injection/series derived from your own blood. Your blood is drawn, placed in a centrifuge, and the reparative constituents are then injected back into your knee. Early data shows that a significant number of patients have improvement with this treatment. Currently, this is not approved by the FDA and most insurance will not cover it.

Stem Cells

Stem cells are immature cells with the ability to transform into bone and cartilage cells. They are pulled from fat or bone marrow, with bone marrow having more cells on average for adults. The technique of acquiring these cells is more invasive than the average blood draw, and the long term outcomes are still pending. The use of stem cells to treat osteoarthritis is not approved by the FDA and most insurance will not cover it.

Learn More

For more information on non-surgical treatments of degenerative joint disease, see an expert at Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital.