Non-Surgical Treatments for 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. An estimated 3.2 million people in the U.S. have some form of osteoarthritis.

If you have arthritis or suspect that it may be the cause of your joint discomfort, you know all too well that the condition can be painful and even debilitating. Fortunately, non-surgical treatments for degenerative joint disease can help mitigate the pain as a conservative approach to care.

Treating Degenerative Joint Disease

Osteoarthritis is a painful condition where your joints may swell, ache, and become stiff. Osteoarthritis (also known as OA, or simply “arthritis“) is a degenerative joint disease caused by wear and tear on your joints over time. It can result in a limited range of motion and is often painful.

OA is different from rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, which is an autoimmune disorder wherein your body’s immune system attacks the synovial membrane that encases your joints. While OA is caused by joint use and often affects one specific area (like a knee joint), RA can strike suddenly at any age and often affects multiple joints at once. Therefore, it’s essential to work with a medical professional to have degenerative joint disease properly diagnosed, as treatment approaches may vary.

Osteoarthritis occurs and often worsens over time. With repetitive use, cartilage—connective tissue that absorbs shock and reduces friction between bones in the joints—breaks down. Risk factors for OA include age, genetics, injury, obesity, and gender (women are more likely to suffer from OA). Some people are predisposed to degenerative joint disease, making them more susceptible.

Control degenerative joint disease with a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and following the recommendations of your physical therapist, orthopedic specialist, or general healthcare provider. Should your OA become painful and interfere with your quality of life, it may be time to seek further treatments.

Fortunately, the answer isn’t always surgical intervention and joint replacement. There are non-surgical treatments for degenerative joint disease too. Most sufferers of osteoarthritis explore a variety of options to ease symptoms, including icing, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroid injections, therapy, bracing, massage, and alternative approaches like acupuncture. These at-home arthritis treatments, however, only alleviate pain for a time.

Surgery is ultimately often the best option for severely arthritic joints, but some other interventions may offer significant relief prior to surgery. With your physician’s guidance, explore these non-surgical interventions for OA.


Approved for use in the knee (but can also be used in other joints), Viscosupplementation includes a series of three injections of a gel-like substance similar to joint fluid called hyaluronic acid. The gel mimics synovial fluid, keeping joints lubricated and minimizing friction.

When used for the knee, Viscosupplementation treatment is typically covered by insurance and improves outcomes for 60-70% of people with mild to moderate osteoarthritis. However, this is not commonly used for rheumatologic disease. Unfortunately, the process doesn’t regrow or regenerate damaged cartilage, but it can offer pain relief, especially for those with early-stage mild to moderate OA.

Platelet-Rich Plasma

Platelet-Rich Plasma is a newer intervention possibility for OA. During this treatment, patients receive an injection series derived from ingredients in their own blood. First, the blood is drawn and placed in a centrifuge, and the reparative constituents are then injected back into the joint.

It’s important to note that this treatment is still in the experimental phases and being tested and explored as a treatment for degenerative joint disease. Early data shows that this treatment may hold some promise, but it isn’t yet approved by the FDA, and most insurance will not cover it.

Starting Treatment for Degenerative Joint Disease

If you’re suffering from joint pain, swelling, or stiffness, it’s important to seek treatment. Often early intervention is the key to preventing further damage to your joints. Meeting with an orthopedic expert can help guide your approach and allow you to make lifestyle changes and explore treatment options.

Our team of experts is ready to help you find arthritis pain relief. We can share the latest in conservative and robust treatment options to help you regain mobility and avoid pain. If you’re ready to discuss surgical and non-surgical treatments for degenerative joint disease, contact an expert at Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital.