Guide To Non-prescription Medications For Arthritis Pain

There are several types of over-the-counter medicines that can be used to alleviate joint pains in arthritis. Since these non-prescription pain killers are the backbone of treatment for arthritis, it is important that those who may need to use them frequently, are aware about their limitations, dose and side-effects to some extent.
Guide to Non-Prescription Medications for Arthritis Pain
Source - Wikimedia Commons (

The treatment of Arthritis revolves around many over the counter pain killers that are available without prescription. Since, they are often taken for long periods, it is only appropriate that those wishing to use them on their own know about their side effects, relevant precautions and limitations. Awareness can minimize their unintended damages and prevent avoidable complications of treatment.


Pain relievers need to be taken in arthritis for fairly long periods, which makes the possibility of adverse side effects that much more likely. These pain relievers do not cure arthritis but are necessary for relieving pain and carrying on with day

to day life. While using the non-prescription medications, one must know as to what are the side effects they are likely to cause and the necessary precautions that are required for keeping these adverse effects to a minimum.
There are three kind of non-prescription medications that one can use to relieve pain in arthritis. These include the Non steroid anti inflammatory agents or NSAIDs, Acetaminophen and topical medications which can be rubbed on the painful part. Each of them has different side effects and require different precautions.

Use of NSAIDs

NSAIDs are the mainstay for relieving pain in arthritis. Their availability without prescription makes them one of the most commonly used group of medicines. Common medicines in this group are ASPIRIN (ASA), IBUPROFEN (ADVIL) NAPROXEN (ALEVE) AND DICLOFENAC. They act by inhibiting the 'prostaglandins' which are the main chemical mediators causing swelling and pain. By blocking them NSAIDs reduce pain and swelling both.

NSAIDs: Side effects & Precautions

The most important side effect of all NSAIDs is that they cause gastric injury, and can lead to ulcers in stomach and bleeding. If a person with arthritis is also having gastritis (swelling of stomach lining) or peptic ulcers, then she should not take NSAIDs. Similarly, in a person who is taking NSAIDs frequently, and develops nausea, vomiting or gastric bleeding NSAIDs should be avoided as they would aggravate the problem. One way to reduce these side effects of NSAIDs is to avoid taking them on empty stomach. Taking them just after meals slows down their absorption and consequent relief from pain, but that also prolongs the duration of pain relief. Long acting NSAIDs like PIROXICAM (FELDENE) which can be taken once in a day may be a better option for persons who are not able to tolerate other NSAIDs.

A new group of NSAID medicines called COX-2 inhibitors are also being used recently. The main medicine of this group is CELECOXIB (CELEBREX). It causes less of stomach irritation and bleeding but is otherwise not more effective. In addition it can also cause damage to the heart and kidney, and so it is not generally considered superior to NSAIDs, though it may be an option for those who cannot tolerate NSAIDs.

Aspirin is an NSAID, but it has many unique properties. It is a blood thinning agent and useful in cases of heart attacks and angina. But this thinning of blood can prolong the gastric bleeding too, hence it should be avoided in all cases of gastric bleeding. It should also not be given to persons

under the age of 16 years having chicken pox or flu, because of the risk of 'Reye syndrome'.

All NSAIDs can interfere with the effect of certain other medicines. Aspirin specially interacts with other blood thinning medicines like WARFARIN (COUMADIN) and can lead to severe bleeding.

Thus, one should be careful even while using non-prescription NSAIDs, and it may not be a bad idea to consult the physician for selecting the pain reliever, and share with him the complete medical history before any of these non prescription medicines are used for prolonged periods.

ACETAMINOPHEN: Use, Side Effects & Precautions

Acetaminophen (Tylenol / Panadol) relieves pain primarily by its action on the nerves. It does not irritate stomach lining like NSAIDs, and so is a more preferable medicine. It is also safer in children. However, it can cause side effects on liver and hence should not be given in case of liver diseases or in combination with other medicines which can damage liver.

Acetaminophen is also available in combination with other medicines like NSAIDs. It is important to remember that too many pain relievers must not be combined even if they are non-prescription medicines because together they can cause serious side effects.

TOPICAL PAIN KILLERS: Use, Side Effects & Precautions

A variety of balms and creams are available on the counter which can provide some relief from pain. The most common substance in them is METHYL SALICYLATE, a substance similar to Aspirin, but which is used topically. It also reduces the ability of nerves to sense and carry pain. Another common substance is DICLOFENAC which is available as cream that can be applied on a painful joint.

CAPSAICIN is another substance that can be tried. It is derived from hot pepper, and works by reducing the amount of chemical substance P, which is a mediator for signaling pain sensation to the brain. If applied three to four times a day, it can provide some relief in three to four weeks.

Other substances used in pain relieving creams are menthol, camphor, eucalyptus oil, turpentine oil and methyl nicotinate. They relieve pain by creating a counter sensation, which is stronger than the pain sensation and hence masks it. However, they lose their efficacy if used for very long periods. The topical pain killers do not carry significant side effects, but their effect is also limited and may not be able to provide relief in severe cases.

All these non-prescription medicines offer options for relieving pain, but it is important to be aware about their role, limitations and side effects. Persons with other diseases or those taking treatment for other ailments should preferably consult their physician before taking these medicines.

All painkiller medicines have side effects, but if used wisely are reasonably safe.

Please login to comment on this post.
There are no comments yet.
Extraordinary Healing Powers Of The Human Body
Help For Global Warming: Irrigating Deserts And Desalinizing Ocean Water