Skip to content

Osteoarthritis Health Center

Font Size

Arthritis Pain Relief: Risks and Benefits

Prescription Drugs: Narcotics continued...

A narcotic-like medication called tramadol (Ultram) may also be used to provide osteoarthritis pain relief in those who do not respond to other treatments.

Your doctor will determine if narcotics are appropriate to treat your pain. Keep in mind that long-term use can result in physical dependence. Yet, when taken exactly as prescribed, narcotic pain relievers can be safe, can manage pain effectively, and rarely cause addiction. Narcotics can cause drowsiness, difficulties in thinking clearly, and constipation. However, the drug naloxegol (Movanik) has been approved specifically to treat constipation due to opioid use. You should not drive or operate dangerous equipment when first taking narcotics, and you may need to avoid these activities if you take narcotics long term.


Prescription Drugs: Steroids and Cymbalta

If over-the-counter or prescriptions NSAIDs or narcotics do not relieve arthritis pain, you may consider other prescription treatments.

Steroid medications reduce pain by reducing inflammation. To provide pain relief and reduce inflammation, they will usually be injected in the affected area, such as the knee.

Steroids do have side effects, although local injections help to minimize these side effects compared with taking the drug by mouth. Some of the side effects that could be seen include infections, allergic reactions, local bleeding, skin discoloration, and rarely, the rupture of a tendon near the injection site.

In addition to the prescription drugs already mentioned, the antidepressant duloxetine (Cymbalta) has been approved for chronic musculoskeletal pain such as chronic pain from osteoarthritis. 

Prescription Hyaluronan Injections

A substance called hyaluronan, found in normal joint fluid, helps to lubricate and cushion the joints and keep them working properly. Treating osteoarthritis with joint injections of hyaluronic acid has been found to minimally help relieve arthritis pain in people with mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis. In studies, this treatment has led to few side effects, mostly localized pain around the injection area. Examples of hyaluronic acid injections include Euflexxa, Hyalgan, Orthovisc, Supartz, and Synvisc.

There are also many complementary and alternative treatments for osteoarthritis pain, ranging from heat and cold therapy, knee bracing, massage, and biofeedback to mobility exercises like yoga, tai chi, and stretching. Most of these, if done with proper supervision and your doctor’s guidance, carry few, if any, risks. Orthotic shoe insoles, which have been used to treat arthritis pain of the inner side of the knee, are not effective, according to a recent study.

If your osteoarthritis reaches a point where you are unable to do the things you want and need to do in your daily life without disabling pain, and none of the pain relief options described here provide significant relief, then it may be time to talk with your doctor about other options such as surgery.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Scott Keller, MD on October 13, 2013

Today on WebMD

elderly hands
Even with arthritis pain.
woman exercising
Here are 7 easy tips.
acupuncture needles in woman's back
How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.
chronic pain
Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.
Keep Joints Healthy
Chronic Pain Healthcheck
close up of man with gut
man knee support
woman with cold compress
Man doing tai chi
hand gripping green rubber ball
person walking with assistance