Chicago Health | Homepage
Choosing an OTC pain reliever for osteoarthritis

Choosing an OTC pain reliever for osteoarthritis

The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts

By Howard LeWine, M.D.

Q: I have osteoarthritis in both knees. What’s the best over-the-counter pain reliever?

A: Osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disability and reduced quality of life around the globe. Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint. But it strikes the knees, hips, spine and hands most often. The chance of developing osteoarthritis increases with advancing age and body weight.

The main problem is loss of the cartilage that covers and protects the ends of the bones where they meet at a joint. Without this protective coating, bone rubs against bone. This causes the joint to get irritated and inflamed.

Other than surgery, there is no cure for knee osteoarthritis. So, treatments focus on relieving pain and decreasing stiffness. Getting symptom relief not only provides comfort, it allows people with osteoarthritis to stay physically active. That’s necessary to maintain muscle strength, a key to avoiding disability.

Some studies looking at the best over-the-counter pain relievers have shown acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) offer similar results. However, more recent studies suggest that drugs such as naproxen and ibuprofen might be slightly better.

I still recommend that people try acetaminophen first. If taken in appropriate doses, it’s safer than an NSAID. I recommend no more than a total of 3,250 milligrams per 24 hours.

Be careful — many products contain acetaminophen. So if you are taking other medicines, be sure that acetaminophen is not one of the ingredients. The main danger of acetaminophen is taking an accidental overdose, which can cause liver failure.

If you are not getting satisfactory relief with acetaminophen, it is reasonable to try over-the-counter naproxen or ibuprofen. However, if you have a history of internal bleeding, peptic ulcer disease or kidney problems, be sure to check with your doctor first before taking an NSAID.

Stick to the recommend doses on the label. By the way, save yourself some money. Generic versions work as well as brand names.

Neither acetaminophen nor an NSAID is a substitute for regular exercise that includes both aerobics and strength training. You may actually find you need less pain relievers as your fitness and strength improve.

(Howard LeWine, M.D., is an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. For additional consumer health information, please visit www.health.harvard.edu.)

(c) 2016 PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Similar Articles

High cholesterol can show up at an early age

High cholesterol can show up at an early age

Mayo Clinic Q&A DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My grandson is 11 and already has high cholesterol. He

Plant defense against diabetes

Plant defense against diabetes

Environmental Nutrition By Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E. As if you need another reason to fill your

Hybrid insurance policies gaining steam

Hybrid insurance policies gaining steam

By Eleanor Laise Consumers who are skeptical of traditional long-term-care insurance are snapping up "hybrid" policies

Commonly prescribed osteoporosis drugs aren’t for everyone

Commonly prescribed osteoporosis drugs aren’t for everyone

Mayo Clinic Q&A DEAR MAYO CLINIC: The bisphosphonate drugs I take for osteoporosis aren't working in

How to eat all day to lose weight

How to eat all day to lose weight

By Jessica Migala A successful diet doesn't mean starving yourself until you can't stand it any

Articles By Category

Family Health

In The Know

CH Lifestyle

February 2017
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
January 29, 2017 January 30, 2017 January 31, 2017 February 1, 2017 February 2, 2017 February 3, 2017 February 4, 2017
February 5, 2017 February 6, 2017 February 7, 2017 February 8, 2017 February 9, 2017 February 10, 2017 February 11, 2017
February 12, 2017 February 13, 2017 February 14, 2017 February 15, 2017 February 16, 2017 February 17, 2017 February 18, 2017
February 19, 2017 February 20, 2017 February 21, 2017 February 22, 2017 February 23, 2017 February 24, 2017 February 25, 2017
February 26, 2017 February 27, 2017 February 28, 2017 March 1, 2017 March 2, 2017 March 3, 2017 March 4, 2017

Categories

Recent Comments

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

VIEW ARTICLE
Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

A Hazy Shade of Healthcare: What does tort reform

VIEW ARTICLE

Archives