Medications for Osteoarthritis
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Here are the basics about each of the medicines below. Only common problems with them are listed.
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs help to ease inflammation and joint pain. Many are available without a prescription. Some may also be available as creams or patches. They can be placed on skin over the area.
Some problems may be:
Always take NSAIDs with food. This will lower the risk of stomach upset. Do not drink alcohol while taking NSAIDs. It causes extra stress on the liver.
NSAIDs are a common ingredient in many over the counter medicines. Read the ingredient list on labels. Do not take other medicines that contain NSAID ingredients.
Cyclooxygenase-2 or COX-2 Inhibitors
COX-2 inhibitors work like NSAIDs. They help ease inflammation and joint pain. They cause less stomach irritation than NSAIDs.
Drinking alcohol or taking NSAIDs while using a COX-2 inhibitor can raise the risk of side effects.
Problems may be:
Opioids may be given to ease severe pain. However, they may cause dependence. Monitoring will be needed while on this medicine.
Some opioids may have acetaminophen. This is also a common ingredient in many over the counter medicines. High doses of it can harm the liver. Read the ingredient list on labels. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen.
Problems may be:
Antidepressants may help ease chronic pain caused by OA.
Common name: Duloxetine
Problems may be:
This type of medicine can cause severe symptoms if it is stopped too fast. It should only be stopped under the advice of a doctor.
Acetaminophen can help ease pain from OA. It should be the first medicine option in most people with OA.
This medicine can harm the liver. Do not take a larger dose than advised. Do not drink alcohol when taking it every day.
Side effects are rare. A few people may have an allergic reaction, such as rash, swelling, or problems breathing.
Common brand names are:
Capsaicin cream is rubbed on the skin of a joint to ease pain and inflammation.
It is made from the active part of hot chile peppers. Wear rubber gloves when putting it on or practice proper hand washing after it is used. Do not get the cream near the eyes. It will burn and sting.
There may be burning, stinging, or a warm feeling when first putting it on.
Derry S, Moore RA, et al. Topical NSAIDs for acute musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;2015(6):CD007402. Published 2015 Jun 11. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007402.pub3.
Osteoarthritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/osteoarthritis. Accessed August 24, 2021.
Osteoarthritis (OA) of the hip. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/osteoarthritis-oa-of-the-hip. Accessed August 24, 2021.
Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/osteoarthritis-oa-of-the-knee. Accessed August 24, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT
Last Updated: 8/24/2021
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