Basic objectives of arthritis therapy are to reduce musculoskeletal pain, slow progression of disease, maintain and improve function and quality of life, and avoid adverse drug reactions. Both nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic approaches may be taken. The former include patient education, cognitive therapy, high-intensity progressive-resistance or strength training, weight control, cold therapy, heat, massage, relaxation and distraction techniques. Guiding principles for the pharmacologic management of musculoskeletal disease in geriatric patients are to 'start low and go slow,' and to provide adequate pain relief. The latter may include the use of topicals, such as 5% lidocaine patches or capsaicin, or orally administered analgesics, such as acetaminophen, tramadol, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and opiates. Although attractive because of the reduced incidence of serious gastrointestinal adverse reactions, selective COX-2 inhibitors may have significant renal and cardiovascular toxicities, and thus should be used with caution in the older patient with co-morbid diseases affecting these organs. Intraarticular therapies with corticosteroids, or as viscosupplementation, may have a role in the management of osteoarthritis. For patients with inflammatory arthropathies, low-dose systemic steroids or disease-modifying agents are therapeutic. When therapy fails and pain remains intolerable or disabling, surgical options may be considered.