Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Osteoarthritis Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Arthritis Pain Relief: Risks and Benefits

If osteoarthritis causes you pain, you don’t have to “just deal with it.” There are several kinds of medications and other treatment options for you to choose from. They may not eliminate your pain totally, but they can often ease it significantly and make it possible for you to do all the things you enjoy doing.

You should always talk with your doctor about starting a new medication, particularly if you are older, pregnant, on multiple medications (especially blood thinners), or have certain medical conditions (such as heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or history of stomach ulcers). Always read and follow the directions for any medications you take. You should not drink alcoholic beverages when taking acetaminophen, NSAIDs, and narcotics.

Recommended Related to Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis Treatment Now

While there's no cure for osteoarthritis, you can still do much to relieve pain and stay active. Your osteoarthritis treatment will depend on several factors, including the severity of your pain -- and how much it affects your everyday activities. Osteoarthritis often progresses slowly, with periods when there's little or no change. If you have mild-to-moderate osteoarthritis, you can probably control your symptoms with nonprescription pain relievers. When those don't work, your doctor will...

Read the Osteoarthritis Treatment Now article > >

Many people find pain relief through a regular program of diet and exercise. For patients who are overweight or obese, losing 10% of their weight reduces pain and improves function, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

WebMD takes a look at the risks and benefits of medications available to help manage osteoarthritis pain.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers: Medications

The advantages of over-the-counter (OTC) medications for pain relief, like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, include easy access, affordability, and lower risk of side effects.

OTC acetaminophen can reduce mild and moderate arthritis pain that often accompanies osteoarthritis. Follow the dosage directions on the bottle, because acetaminophen and NSAIDs can cause problems when not used according to the package label.  If taken with food or milk, you can reduce your risks of side effects.NOTE: You should not take more than 3000 mg per day unless told to do so by your doctor. You may be taking other medications that contain acetaminophen without realizing it, so you should makes sure you do not exceed 3000 mg from all sources.

NSAIDs also provide relief from pain caused by swelling and inflammation. At over-the-counter doses, NSAIDs are not as effective at reducing inflammation as higher prescription doses.

Most healthy people can safely take NSAIDs for short periods without any problems, However, NSAIDs may increase the risk of medical problems like heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. A study published in 2012 advises people who have had a heart attack to be cautious using NSAIDs because of increased risk of another heart attack and death. 

In addition, NSAIDs block the production of substances that line and protect the stomach from acids; when taken long term, some NSAID users can experience side effects related to stomach irritation and bleeding. Your doctor may recommend you take a medication such as omeprazole (Prilosec), esomeprazole (Nexium), pantoprazole (Protonix), ranitidine (Zantac), or famotidine (Pepcid) to protect your stomach. You’re at particular risk for side effects if you’re over age 75, take high doses of NSAIDs or take them over an extended period of time, or are on medications to prevent blood clots.

 

1 | 2 | 3

WebMD Medical Reference

Today on WebMD

Sore feet with high heel shoes
SLIDESHOW
Woman with pain increased by rainy weather
Slideshow
 
Stiff Big Toe
Video
Woman in gym
SLIDESHOW
 
Keep Joints Healthy
SLIDESHOW
Chronic Pain Healthcheck
HEALTH CHECK
 
close up of man with gut
Article
Hand on back
Slideshow
 
woman with cold compress
QUIZ
Man doing tai chi
Article
 
Woman shopping for vegetables
Slideshow
Public restroom door sign
Slideshow