Health Insights

Myth busting: What actually works when it comes to osteoarthritis

From diet to exercise, everyday habits can help manage symptoms of osteoarthritis

Written by Medibank
Osteoarthritis affects more than two million Australians

Osteoarthritis affects more than two million Australians and that number is on the rise. A chronic and painful condition, it’s no surprise there are many different treatments on the market as more people seek relief from symptoms of osteoarthritis. Read on for expert advice on what actually works.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of chronic arthritis, causing persistent joint pain, stiffness and swelling. It mainly affects the hands, knees and hips, often restricting movement and making normal daily activities more difficult.

While people over 45 are more likely to be affected, it’s not just a condition of ageing. It can affect younger people as well, with other risk factors including being overweight or obese, joint injury, overuse from occupations or activities with repetitive movements, or a family history of the condition.

While there’s no cure, treatment and lifestyle changes can often help with its symptoms and reduce discomfort. But with drug-based medicines and an endless list of supplements and alternative remedies available, it can be hard to know where to start.

Managing the condition

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) released their guidelines for the management of knee and hip osteoarthritis in 2018.

Many people think surgery is their only option, however there are other non-invasive treatments including diet and exercise plans they can try first to alleviate their pain and bring back their quality of life.


Health fact: Following an appropriate and consistent exercise program can improve pain and joint function for people with osteoarthritis.

Healthy habit: Try low-impact options like walking, muscle-strengthening exercises, water aerobics and Tai Chi, which is also great for improving balance. Get into a regular routine and encourage a friend or family member to try it too, so that you can encourage and motivate one another to be consistent. Walks are also an excellent way to start or end the day with some ‘me time’ and fresh air.

Weight management

Health fact: Excess weight, especially obesity, is a major risk factor for osteoarthritis. Getting to a healthy BMI - and maintaining it - is strongly recommended if you have osteoarthritis.

Healthy habit: Along with regular exercise, eating a wide range of healthy foods can help you feel better and lose weight. Aim for a balanced and varied diet full of fresh food, especially fruit and vegetables. The Mediterranean-style diet, which includes fish, poultry and some dairy and is low in red meat, processed meats and sugar, has shown links to decreased pain, disability and depressive symptoms in people with osteoarthritis. Consider trying a Mediterranean diet and see if it works for you.

Senior couple

Is knee pain holding you back?

We’re delivering a program to help eligible Medibank members with painful knee osteoarthritis to reduce knee pain, improve their quality of life, and lower the chances of requiring joint replacement surgery. For more information about the Better Knee, Better MeTM program and to find out if you're eligible, click on the 'Find out more' button.


Health fact: Experts strongly recommend against the use of opioid-based medications and a range of other drug-based treatments for people with osteoarthritis.

Healthy habit: Discuss your pain relief options with your GP. Some non-steroid, anti-inflammatory medications (e.g. ibuprofen tablets) and corticosteroid injections can provide short-term symptom relief, but long-term use is not recommended.

Natural alternatives

Health fact: While osteoarthritis supplements are very common, there’s very little evidence to suggest that glucosamine, chondroitin or vitamin D - three widely marketed therapies - are beneficial to people with osteoarthritis. RACGP’s guidelines for the management of knee and hip osteoarthritis do not support the use of acupuncture or herbal tablets and oils for individuals with osteoarthritis.

Healthy habit: You could try a form of massage or manual therapy, like physiotherapy or osteopathy, as part of your plan to manage osteoarthritis. And if it helps with your symptoms, your health cover may come in handy.

MORE: Osteoarthritis: how your health cover can help

If you’re affected by osteoarthritis, you can reduce its impact on your life, especially with diet and exercise.

The best place to start is by talking to your GP or healthcare professional. Understand what’s going on with your body, and how you can help support your health and manage any pain. Start with a plan, set realistic goals for weight loss and exercise, and don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way. Once you have a plan in place, you can make the right choices to give your body the best chance to thrive.

Medibank’s Better Knee, Better Me™ program  

If you have Medibank hospital cover which includes joint replacements, you may be eligible to participate in Better Knee, Better Me™. The 12-month program designed by Medibank and the University of Melbourne supports eligible members with chronic knee pain that is caused by osteoarthritis through personalised plans for exercise, weight loss and pain management, and aims to decrease your chances of requiring knee replacement surgery in the future.

The program is delivered remotely via video and phone consultations with accredited dietitians and physiotherapists, meaning you can participate from the safety and comfort of your own home – regardless of where you live.

There is no cost to enrol or participate, however if you consult your own GP or specialist in the course of the program, there may be a cost if they don’t bulk bill.

For more information, click here.


Written by Medibank

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