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Nonprescription Medicines for Osteoarthritis

Topic Overview

Medicines that you can buy without a prescription can be useful in relieving the pain of mild or moderate osteoarthritis. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

  • Try acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) first. Regular use of acetaminophen can provide relief of pain caused by osteoarthritis. Doctors may advise people who take acetaminophen on a regular basis to limit alcohol consumption.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, are also good pain relievers, especially if you are not bothered by stomach problems. Talk to your doctor to find out the best dose of NSAIDs for your symptoms. Also consult your doctor before use if you have had stomach ulcers, liver disease, kidney disease, heart failure, or if you will be taking NSAIDs daily for more than 6 months.
  • Capsaicin (Zostrix), available without a prescription, is a pain reliever that comes in a cream and is applied directly to the skin (topical analgesic). It has been found to relieve joint pain of osteoarthritis in some people when rubbed into the skin over affected joints.1 To be beneficial, the cream must be applied 3 or 4 times a day. And the effects may not be seen for several weeks. The main ingredient in capsaicin is an extract from hot peppers. It appears to have no serious side effects. But some people may be allergic or sensitive to capsaicin. The first time you use this topical cream, apply it to just a small area of skin to ensure there is no allergic reaction. Even those who are not allergic may note a burning sensation. Some people may not be able to tolerate the discomfort of capsaicin.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. De Silva V, et al. (2011). Evidence for the efficacy of complimentary and alternative medicines in the management of osteoarthritis: A systematic review. Rheumatology, 50(5): 911–920.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Stanford M. Shoor, MD - Rheumatology
Last Revised April 9, 2013

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