Your Osteoarthritis Treatment Options
Be careful when you use NSAIDs because they can have side effects such as stomach bleeding and an increased risk for heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. Read the package label and talk to your doctor to make sure you use the lowest effective dose for the shortest period of time.
Even though NSAIDs are the most popular form of osteoarthritis pain relief, treatment guidelines actually recommend starting with acetaminophen because it doesn't come with the heart attack and stomach bleeding risks of NSAIDs, and it's good for easing arthritis pain.
Because acetaminophen can harm the liver and kidneys at high doses, make sure to stick with the recommended dosage and talk to your doctor if you need longer-term pain relief. Some people, such as those with existing liver disease or heavy drinkers, may not be able to take acetaminophen.
You may also want to try creams or gels that you rub on your affected joints. They include:
- Capsaicin, the ingredient that gives hot peppers their kick, is also good for relieving osteoarthritis pain. It works by affecting the release of substance P, which is involved in transmitting the sensation of pain.
- NSAIDs also come in lotions or creams, some of which are only available by prescription. If you use the NSAID diclofenac, your doctor will need to check your liver function 4 to 8 weeks after you start treatment, due to possible side effects.
- Some products use ingredients like camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus to help with pain.
If you've already tried a variety of pain relievers and your joints still hurt or you can't tolerate NSAIDs or acetaminophen, your doctor may recommend a stronger opioid pain reliever like codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, tramadol, or one of these drugs combined with acetaminophen. Narcotic medications can become habit-forming and cause constipation and sedation, so it's important that you keep in close touch with your doctor while taking them.
Steroid shots, like cortisone, into the knee joint offer fast relief from joint pain and inflammation, and their effects can last for a few weeks to months.