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National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

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How Is Osteoarthritis Treated? continued...

Massage: In this pain-relief approach, a massage therapist will lightly stroke and/or knead the painful muscles. This may increase blood flow and bring warmth to a stressed area. However, arthritis-stressed joints are sensitive, so the therapist must be familiar with the problems of the disease.

Medications to control pain

Doctors prescribe medicines to eliminate or reduce pain and to improve functioning. Doctors consider a number of factors when choosing medicines for their patients with osteoarthritis. These include the intensity of pain, potential side effects of the medication, your medical history (other health problems you have or are at risk for), and other medications you are taking.

Because some medications can interact with one another and certain health conditions put you at increased risk of drug side effects, it’s important to discuss your medication, and health history with your doctor before you start taking any new medication, and to see your doctor regularly while you are taking medication. By working together, you and your doctor can find the medication that best relieves your pain with the least risk of side effects.

The following types of medicines are commonly used in treating osteoarthritis:

Acetaminophen: A medication commonly used to relieve pain, acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol1) is available without a prescription. It is often the first medication doctors recommend for osteoarthritis patients because of its safety relative to some other drugs and its effectiveness against pain.

NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): A large class of medications useful against both pain and inflammation, NSAIDs are staples in arthritis treatment. A number of NSAIDs – ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen sodium (Aleve) and ketoprofen (Orudis, Oruvail) – are available over the counter. More than a dozen others, including a subclass of NSAIDs called COX-2 inhibitors, are available only with a prescription.

All NSAIDs work similarly: by blocking substances called prostaglandins that contribute to inflammation and pain. However, each NSAID is a different chemical, and each has a slightly different effect on the body2.

1 Brand names included in this booklet are provided as examples only, and their inclusion does not mean that these products are endorsed by the National Institutes of Health or any other Government agency. Also, if a particular brand name is not mentioned, this does not mean or imply that the product is unsatisfactory.

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