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Drugs & Medications for OA

Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications are sometimes necessary as an addition to first-line treatment.

A photo of two pill blister packages next to four white loose pills and two yellow loose pills on a black background.

Although research is underway, there is currently no medication that can slow down, stop, or reverse the progress of osteoarthritis (OA).

However, there are several painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications that provide temporary symptom relief. First-line treatment (information, exercise, and weight loss) should not be replaced with medication but can be used for example to get started with exercise or to temporarily relieve severe pain. Make sure that you consult a doctor before turning to pain relief medications.

Below you can read about common types of medications that are used to relieve OA pain and/or reduce inflammation that may be causing pain.

Oral NSAIDs

Ibuprofen, naproxen, and diclofenac are amongst others, in a group of drugs known as NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). NSAIDs have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties and can be used for up to two weeks to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. However, NSAIDs increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, stomach ulcers, and gastritis. Long-term use is thus not recommended. People with kidney or liver disease should not take oral NSAIDs as they can cause serious damage to these organs.

Topical NSAIDs

In mild to moderate OA of the knees, hands, and feet, anti-inflammatory (NSAID) creams and gels can provide pain relief and reduce inflammation. For individuals who don’t want to or can’t take oral NSAIDs because of potential side effects, gels and creams serve as a better, safer option.

Paracetamol

Paracetamol is a commonly used painkiller for treating OA pain. Paracetamol can possibly relieve mild to moderate pain, making it easier to be physically active. The effect of paracetamol compared to placebo on osteoarthritis pain is often questioned. However, since there are several different pain mechanisms in osteoarthritis, paracetamol may help reduce certain OA pain. Keep in mind that long-term use of high doses of paracetamol can lead to serious, life-threatening liver damage.

Cortisone injections

Cortisone is a type of steroid that reduces inflammation. It is a synthetic drug that acts as the body’s own hormone, cortisol.  Cortisone is sometimes injected into OA-affected joints to ease inflammation and pain. For people suffering from OA pain who have not experienced pain relief from oral or topical painkillers, cortisone injections- may be a good alternative. Cortisone injections can reduce pain and inflammation for approximately 6-8 weeks. However, there is not enough scientific evidence that states that the treatment increases quality of life or joint mobility.

Opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs most often used to relieve pain after surgery or to treat, for example, severe cancer pain. Opioids can solely be prescribed by a doctor, as they are highly addictive. Common side effects include fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and constipation. Opioids are extremely strong drugs and should not be used when driving as they reduce attention and concentration and increase reaction time. The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare classifies opioids as low priority as they have serious side effects and cause addiction.

Please note!


  • Only turn to painkillers when you really need them
  • Painkillers can be an addition to but should never replace first-line treatment
  • Avoid long-term use of pain relievers without consulting a doctor