Complementary and Alternative Options for Treating Osteoarthritis

Here's a brief rundown on nontraditional alternative treatments for osteoarthritis.

New research1 is looking at alternative medicines for treating osteoarthritis. This means we should soon have better information about nontraditional remedies. In the meantime, here’s a brief rundown of what we know now.


Yoga is an ancient Indian exercise and breathing technique. It has been proven to:

  • Improve breathing
  • Strengthen muscles
  • Improve flexibility, mobility, and stability

Yoga is also very good for reducing stress.

Tai chi

This is an ancient Chinese exercise program. It can provide benefits like yoga. Tai chi has become popular in the United States. It is recommended2 for people with knee, but not hip osteoarthritis. It is good for balance and preventing falls.


Research has shown that hydrotherapy is helpful for people with osteoarthritis. It includes whirlpools, heated pools, and mineral baths.


Acupuncture has been used for centuries by the Chinese.

  • Practitioners insert metallic needles in specific points in the body.
  • Several studies suggest that acupuncture is a good way to treat osteoarthritis pain.

Research3 shows that acupuncture combined with medicine may help reduce pain in people with knee osteoarthritis. It also may improve knee function. However, not everyone agrees with this finding4. Some doctors argue that there is still not enough evidence to support acupuncture.

It is not a good choice of treatment for people who have bleeding disorders or take blood thinners. Disposable acupuncture needles or sterilization of acupuncture needles is very important. That is because unsterilized needles can lead to serious infections. These infections can include HIV and hepatitis. It is important to select a practitioner who is certified by a national accrediting organization5.

Mind-body interventions

Examples of mind-body interventions:

  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Creative therapies using art, music, and dance

Some other interventions have become mainstream medical approaches to osteoarthritis, including:

  • Support groups
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy

Massage and other manipulation methods

Massages help relax the muscles, promoting relaxation.

Electromagnetic field therapy

This therapy uses electricity to stimulate the joints to reduce symptoms.

  • Some studies show that this works better than a placebo.
  • It should not be used if you have a pacemaker or similar implanted device. The electromagnetic field could interfere with them.

If you are interested in these types of treatments for managing arthritis, ask your doctor to recommend an experienced and licensed practitioner.



  1. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
  2. American College of Rheumatology
  3. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
  4. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  5. American Academy of Medical Acupuncture or National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine