How do pain medications help in treating arthritis?
When it comes to fighting pain and inflammation, pain medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be very useful.
As with many other chronic illnesses,
arthritis is well-known for the pain and discomfort it causes. The acute,
constant and often unrelenting joint pain has a significant impact on the individual’s
quality of life. In the world of medicine, for pain to be considered chronic,
it must continue for a period of six months or more. For a lot of people with
arthritis however, it is often a life-long complaint rather than a six-month
Fortunately, there are several
painkillers (analgesics) currently available that have proven effective in
helping alleviate the pain associated with arthritis. There are a variety of
options out there, each one producing a different chemical response in the
body. The indications (a valid reason to use it) and contraindications (a valid
reason not to use it) for each medication will vary depending on the chemical
reaction it triggers. Some can be bought over-the-counter while others cannot
be purchased without a prescription. So, if you’re living with arthritis we’re
certain you’ll be interested in finding out about the different pain relief
options currently available:
is often the first point of call when treating arthritic pain. Acetaminophen
has an effect on the brain and does not reduce joint inflammation. It has fewer
side effects than other painkillers and doesn’t cause dependency. It is
competitively priced and can be bought over-the-counter, which has
unfortunately led some people to take more than they should because they are
unaware of the damage (i.e. severe liver damage) this can cause.
-Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
(NSAIDs): NSAIDs are the medications most
commonly used to treat arthritis pain as they effectively reduce both pain and
joint inflammation. NSAIDs work by reducing the body’s natural production of
prostaglandins (the compounds responsible for the pain and inflammation
associated with most types of arthritis).
Commonly used NSAIDs include
acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), ibuprofen and diclofenac. While these are
freely available without a prescription you should use them with care as they
can damage the lining of the stomach.
-Topical pain relief: These include creams, gels, sprays and ointments. Topical pain relief
is applied directly to the affected joint. It is recommended when the arthritis
is light to moderate and can be used in conjunction with oral painkillers in
specific situations (after exercising for example).
Many contain capsaicin (an active
component of chili peppers) which is why they often cause a warm tingling or
burning sensation when first applied (although this often disappears with
continued use). You should notice an effect within a few weeks of use.
are synthetic hormones that help reduce the pain and inflammation associated
with arthritis. They act directly on the cells, stopping them from releasing
the substances that provoke the symptoms associated with inflammation (i.e.
pain, heat, swelling and redness). They also stop new cells from accessing the
injury site (which prolongs the inflammatory process).
Some corticosteroids (such as
prednisone) are given orally, while others (such as cortisone) are injected.
The injections are fast-acting but the effect is relatively short lived. Due to
the side effects associated with corticosteroids (both oral and intravenous)
you shouldn’t be given any more than three injections a year. Even though these
side effects often disappear on suspension of the treatment, most doctors use
caution when prescribing them.
are medications that act on specific pain receptors in the nervous system. They
include codeine and morphine – drugs that alter the individual’s consciousness
and that produce a number of side effects. They are highly addictive and their
tolerance levels build quickly - meaning you have to up your dose regularly if
you want to get the same effect over the long-term. Because of this, narcotics
are generally only prescribed in extreme cases, when all other options have
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