Nov. 21, 2022 – Long-term use of anti-inflammatory medications for arthritis of the knee may make the condition worse, new research shows.

The study looked at the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen and tracked knee inflammation using MRIs for 4 years.

“The use of NSAIDs for their anti-inflammatory function has been frequently propagated in patients with osteoarthritis in recent years and should be revisited, since a positive impact on joint inflammation could not be demonstrated,” lead author Johanna Luitjens, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, said in a news release.

The research will be presented at the upcoming annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. 

The study compared 277 patients who took NSAIDs for arthritis of the knee to 793 patients in a control group. Those using the medication showed no benefit from using NSAIDs, and their inflammation worsened by the end of the 4 years of study, according to the news release.

“In this large group of participants, we were able to show that there were no protective mechanisms from NSAIDs in reducing inflammation or slowing down progression of osteoarthritis of the knee joint,” Luitjens said. 

The CDC says 32.5 million U.S. adults have arthritis, which is medically referred to as osteoarthritis. It usually affects the hands, knees, hips, and spine by permanently wearing down cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones in those joints, the Mayo Clinic says.

The patients who took NSAIDs had worse inflammation at the beginning of the study, compared to the control group. Luitjens said those who took NSAIDs may have been “physically more active due to pain relief, which could potentially lead to worsening of synovitis, although we adjusted for physical activity in our model.”

A randomized trial was needed to confirm her study’s findings, she said.

Show Sources


Radiological Society of North America: “NSAIDs May Worsen Arthritis Inflammation.”

CDC: “Osteoarthritis (OA).”

Mayo Clinic: “Osteoarthritis.”

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