5. Hyaluronic acid injection

What it is: Hyaluronic acid (Synvisc, Hyalgan, Supartz) is a slippery, viscous fluid that is a component of natural cartilage, says Dr. Boyd.

How it works: Hyaluronic acid injection may help damaged cartilage by increasing its nutrition and overall health. “There have been claims that it can help cartilage regenerate,” Dr. Boyd says. “But the science for that is a lot softer. And the effectiveness [of the injections] varies from patient to patient.” Patients get a single injection, or one injection a week for three to five weeks, depending on which hyaluronic acid product is used. If the treatment is helpful, patients can repeat it once a year.

Pain it works well for: It’s suitable only for damaged cartilage in the knee joints, but probably not for JA, Dr. Boyd says, “and some studies show only limited benefits.”

Risks: There’s a small risk of allergic reaction or infection.

6. Exercise/physical therapy

What it is: Physical therapy is a treatment that uses exercises designed to improve posture, strength, function, range of motion and to reduce pain. It boosts energy and mood as well.

How it works: A patient who is new to exercise might begin a program of strengthening, stretching and aerobics by seeing a physical therapist twice a week for 12 weeks. “We ask patients to work toward exercising two to three times a week for 30 to 40 minutes each time,” says Padmanabhan.

Pain it works well for: Exercise works for any kind of arthritis, including OA, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and ankylosing spondylitis.

Risks: Overdoing exercise is always a risk. Don’t exercise through pain. High-impact activities like running and jumping may worsen joint health and increase your risk of injury. Better to stick with low-impact sports like swimming, water aerobics and cycling.

7. Heat/cold

What it is: You can apply heat with heating pads, warm compresses, heat patches, warm baths or even hot wax. Cold therapy can arrive in a cold pack, ice pack or frozen vegetable packs.

How it works: “Muscle spasms can cause basic constriction of blood flow,” says Padmanabhan. “Heat works by increasing the blood flow to the [painful] area. It also relaxes the muscles.” Cold sensations travel along large nerve fibers, superseding pain sensations that travel along smaller fibers. Cold also reduces swelling and inflammation by constricting the blood vessels.

Pain it works well for: “Heat works better [than cold] for osteoarthritis pain,” say Padmanabhan. Apply heat two or three times a day for 15 minutes at a time. Heated paraffin wax baths can be helpful for patients with RA, especially their hands – as long as they’re not having a flare. Cold works best for inflammation caused by injuries like sprains, strains and pulled muscles and ligaments. Apply cold packs two to four times a day for 15 minutes at a time until pain and swelling lessen.

Risks: Heat can aggravate an acute injury like a muscle sprain or strain, making the swelling and inflammation worse. And overdoing either heat or cold can cause burns; never apply to bare skin.