Omt Non-Drug Alternatives

Osteoarthritis Management Toolkit

Benefit Plan Design Approaches: Non-Drug Alternatives

Because every case of OA is different, impacting different joints, causing pain at different levels, the most effective treatment strategy is one that is focused on the individual and is created by the patient and their provider together. For most OA patients, this strategy will include both medicines and non-drug therapies to help manage symptoms.

Non-drug alternatives can include everything from the more mainstream physical therapy to alternative approaches including acupuncture, massage therapy, yoga, tai chi and Reiki. Some people also try supplements like vitamin D, glucosamine chondroitin and turmeric. Here are a few of the more commonly used non-drug therapies:

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help decrease pain and improve mobility in some people with OA. A trained physical or occupational therapist can conduct an evaluation and design a program specific to an individual’s condition and related needs. This may involve use of hands-on therapy to improve movement in a specific joint or the design of an individualized targeted exercise program. Unfortunately, according to EPIC task force, many payers (including Medicare) cap physical therapy reimbursement. (EPIC p. 15)


Although acupuncture has been around for thousands of years and is often used to relieve pain, there are very few studies about effectiveness in the osteoarthritis population. According to the Arthritis Foundation, although research is limited, it shows some promising evidence that acupuncture may offer immediate relief from chronic pain. Effectiveness of the treatment is variable, depending on the disease severity and how often treatment is received. 

Massage Therapy

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, massage therapy is one of the most popular complementary therapies used by Americans. And recent research conducted at Duke University suggests that regular massage therapy can be an effective option for those suffering from knee osteoarthritis. Patients receiving massage during the study period showed significant improvement in pain, stiffness and physical function. It is important to note that massage should not hurt – it should make the pain and stiffness from OA feel better. Read more about the benefits of massage for arthritis from the Arthritis Foundation.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Depression and pain often go hand in hand. Osteoarthritis is strongly associated with major depression, likely due to physical limitations and pain. Those with OA and depression are less active and have worse outcomes. (OARSI p. 22)

In an Arthritis Foundation survey of people with OA, 48% reported feeling down, depressed or hopeless and 57% felt little interest or pleasure in doing things. Many of these individuals do not receive mental health treatment along with other therapies. Use of EAP/behavioral health benefits to support employees with OA will impact not only the mental health of the individual, it will also very likely have a positive effect on their physical health and ability to self-manage their condition. This includes everything from taking medications as prescribed to regaining the will and energy to be physically active.

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