Treating Osteoarthritis With Medication: What You Need to Know
The goal of osteoarthritis (OA) treatment is to manage symptoms, prevent joint damage, and to help patients retain and regain function, mobility and independence. In addition to lifestyle changes and surgical intervention, there are many different medicinal options for treating OA symptoms and pain.
Here is some information on the types of medication choices you have, including the side effects. Learning about your options will help you to start conversations with your doctor about how you can better manage OA and minimize its impact on your life.
Analgesic medications block pain by interfering with the brain’s pain signals. There are three different types of analgesics for treating osteoarthritis: acetaminophen, topical analgesics, and opioid analgesics.
Acetaminophen is available over-the-counter (OTC) for treating mild to moderate osteoarthritis pain. Acetaminophen has no effect on inflammation but it is a better choice if you have Aspirin or NSAID sensitivity, have a history of gastrointestinal tract disease, and or take anticoagulants (medications for preventing blood clots).
You should stop taking acetaminophen if you experience nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, lightheadedness, sweating, fainting, weakness, unusual bruising and bleeding, and yellowing of skin or eyes and call your doctor.
Topical analgesics are used for osteoarthritis pain in joints located just below the skin, such as the knees and fingers. They are not effective for joints that are deeper, i.e. the hips.
Capsaicin, a commonly used topic analgesic, is the active material derived from hot chili pepper. It comes in a variety of OTC creams and works to reduce the pain in endings and lessens osteoarthritis pain in about 33 percent of people.
It could take at least two weeks before you see results with capsaicin. Side effects include burning, stinging, and redness.