The goal of osteoarthritis (OA) patient education is to give a person the information they need to optimize their quality of life. It can help with reducing pain and increasing function.

OA patient education is wide-ranging. It includes teaching measures that can decrease symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening, such as exercise, weight management, joint protection, and treatment. It also includes providing information about the potential complications of OA.

This article discusses the goals and interventions of OA patient education, as well as how patient education affects outcomes. It also offers a list of resources.

a doctor is helping a patient with osteoarthritisShare on Pinterest

OA can reduce a person’s functioning and can cause disability. It may affect a person’s ability to work or to do everyday tasks. The goal of patient education is to give people the knowledge they need to decrease pain, increase function, and enhance quality of life.

Patient education for OA may cover:

  • possible OA complications
  • exercise
  • weight management
  • nondrug therapies
  • medications
  • joint protection
  • relaxation

Teaching people about the potential complications of OA has several benefits. It can make them aware of signs that they may need medical treatment, and it can serve as motivation to engage in self-care that may reduce their risk.

OA can cause muscle weakness around a joint and may interfere with exercising. This can mean a person loses strength and function and that falls become more likely.

Exercise is also part of weight management. If a person has difficulty with exercise, it may prevent them from reaching or maintaining a healthy weight. Overweight can increase the risk of other conditions, including:

However, there are ways that people with OA can exercise, which is the next aspect of patient education.

Physical activity is a key part of OA treatment. Experts recommend that all adults get 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise per week, whenever possible. This should include the following:

  • balance exercises, which strengthen small muscles around painful joints and help prevent falls
  • range-of-motion exercises or stretching to keep joints moving and decrease stiffness
  • strengthening exercises that target muscles surrounding affected joints
  • aerobic exercise to increase energy and stamina

If a person with OA has overweight or obesity, reaching a moderate weight can help reduce symptoms. Weight changes can decrease stress on weight bearing joints such as the knees and hips. Losing even a relatively small amount of weight, such as 10–12 pounds (4.5–5.4 kilograms), may reduce pain and increase function.

Exercise can be part of weight management, but eating a balanced diet is another key element that people can try, even if exercise is painful. A balanced diet includes:

  • plenty of fruits and vegetables, which can be fresh, frozen, or canned
  • whole grains such as oats and barley
  • low fat dairy such as skim milk
  • lean proteins such as fish, poultry, eggs, beans, and soy products
  • healthy fats from olive oil, avocado oil, oily fish, nuts, or seeds
  • few or no foods high in saturated fat or added sugar

For weight loss, a person needs to consume fewer calories than their body needs, so they are at a calorie deficit.

The following therapies can help relieve pain without the use of medication:

  • cold therapy, which may reduce inflammation and numb the area
  • heat therapy, which can increase blood flow and pain tolerance
  • shoe inserts, which may help reduce pressure on joints in the foot or leg
  • assistive devices that reduce strain on joints, such as jar openers and larger cutlery

Some complementary medicine approaches may also help. Acupuncture may relieve pain for some, and massage may boost blood flow.

Both over-the-counter and prescription medications are available for OA. A person can talk with their doctor to learn about medications that may work for them.

Medication options may include:

  • counterirritants such as capsaicin and menthol creams, which are topical products that produce heat or cold sensations
  • acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin)
  • corticosteroids such as methylprednisolone (Depo-medrol), which reduce inflammation
  • injections to lubricate the knees

Because joint injuries can worsen arthritis, a person should choose low impact activities, such as swimming or walking, to protect their joints. It is also best to avoid activities that place more stress on the joints, such as running on a hard surface.

Other measures to protect joints from injury include:

  • avoiding repetitive motions
  • wearing protective equipment when participating in sports
  • maintaining good form during exercises
  • wearing seatbelts to reduce the risk of injury from a motor vehicle accident

The use of adaptive equipment, such as a cane or a raised toilet seat, may also protect against falls or injuries.

Finding ways to relax can help reduce the stress of managing a chronic condition and may improve quality of life. People may find it helpful to:

  • try practicing meditation or mindfulness
  • spend time in nature
  • spend time with family and friends
  • engage in fun activities

According to a 2022 review of 20 studies, patient education is one of the first-line treatments for OA of the knee and hip. The authors found that it is effective in reducing pain and increasing function as a stand-alone treatment.

Additionally, when medical professionals used other interventions such as exercise and manual therapy, patient education boosted the effects of these therapies.

Below are some resources people can use for OA patient education:

Osteoarthritis patient education involves familiarizing a person with the potential complications of the condition and the steps they can take to prevent or slow its progression.

Depending on the person, this may involve exercise, weight management, joint protection, and drug or nondrug treatments.

Research suggests that patient education is highly beneficial, as it may help reduce pain and increase function. A combination of patient education and other interventions can also improve outcomes.