Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common form of arthritis, affecting millions of adults worldwide nowadays. This often involves the progressive breakdown of cartilage that cushions the joints, leading to pain, swelling, and loss of mobility.
Although there is currently no cure for osteoarthritis, various medications can help to relieve its symptoms and improve one’s quality of life. In this article, Dr Lauren Papa will discuss some of the most common pharmacological treatments available for managing osteoarthritis.
Over-The-Counter (OTC) Pain Relievers
First of all, these nonprescription drugs are often the first line of defense against OA pain and can be highly effective for mild to moderate cases.
- Acetaminophen – First of all, acetaminophen is an analgesic drug that can relieve mild to moderate osteoarthritis pain. It doesn’t reduce inflammation but can help alleviate discomfort caused by joint wear and tear. It’s essential to follow the recommended dosage, as excessive intake can cause liver damage.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – Certain types of NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen can work effectively by reducing inflammation and alleviating pain. They can be particularly effective for managing flare-ups or episodes of more severe pain. Long-term use of these NSAIDs may lead to gastrointestinal problems or an increased risk of cardiovascular events. For that matter, it’s essential to use NSAIDs as directed only by a medical professional.
Topical Pain Relievers
Topical pain relievers are applied directly onto the skin over the affected joint and can provide localized relief from osteoarthritis symptoms.
- Topical NSAIDs – Some NSAIDs are available in topical formulations, such as diclofenac gel. These types of drugs can provide similar pain-relief benefits as oral NSAIDs, but with a reduced risk of side effects, as they act locally with minimal absorption into the bloodstream.
- Capsaicin – Derived mainly from chili peppers, capsaicin is an active component of various over-the-counter creams and gels that can help relieve pain by reducing the transmission of pain signals. This option for treating osteoarthritis is generally safe for short-term application but may cause skin irritation in some individuals.
For more severe osteoarthritis pain, doctors may prescribe stronger medications, with careful monitoring to prevent potential side effects.
- Opioid Analgesics – These types of drugs for osteoarthritis, such as tramadol or oxycodone, can provide the needed relief for moderate to severe OA pain. This is much needed, especially when other treatments for osteoarthritis have proven ineffective. However, doctors typically prescribe opioids with caution due to their potential for addiction and adverse side effects.
- Corticosteroids – Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, can be prescribed to help reduce inflammation during OA flare-ups. These drugs can be administered orally or as injections directly into the affected joint. However, corticosteroids should only be used for short-term relief, as prolonged use can actually cause side effects and weaken the joint further.
And lastly, while not specifically designed for osteoarthritis, Dr Lauren Papa states that some adjuvant medications can help relieve its symptoms:
- Antidepressants – Some antidepressants, such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), have shown efficacy in relieving chronic pain, including osteoarthritis pain.
- Muscle Relaxants – In cases where muscles around the affected joint become tense or spasm, muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) may be prescribed to help alleviate discomfort.