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Orthopaedics
Home Our Services Orthopaedics Arthritis Osteoarthritis: Managing Pain

Osteoarthritis: Managing Pain

Man in locker room putting lotion on knee.

You don't have to live with pain. In fact, you owe it to yourself to make sure your pain is treated. Pain can make it hard for you to be active and take good care of yourself. Untreated pain may make sleeping difficult. It may also lead to depression. There are things you can do and medications you can use to help you find relief. If one method of pain relief doesn't work for you, another may help. Discuss your options with your healthcare provider to make sure that you understand the pros and cons of each treatment.

Heat and Ice

Heat helps relieve stiffness. It is often used for morning stiffness or before exercise. Use low heat for no more than 20 minutes at a time. You may try:

  • A heating pad

  • An electric blanket

  • A warm shower

  • A jacuzzi or hot tub

Ice helps reduce pain and swelling. It is often used after activity. Ice the joint for 10-15 minutes at a time. You can use a cold pack or a bag of frozen vegetables (such as peas). Make sure to keep a cloth between the cold source and your skin.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Some arthritis medications can be bought without a prescription.

  • Acetaminophen is effective for moderate pain and does not cause stomach upset. It doesn't relieve swelling, though, and it cannot be taken if you have serious liver or kidney problems.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, help relieve pain and swelling. Use of NSAIDs can cause stomach problems. Note: Do not take NSAIDs if you take medications that thin your blood, such as Coumadin.

Prescription Medications

Some arthritis medications require a healthcare provider's prescription.

  • Prescription NSAIDs are stronger than over-the-counter NSAIDs. They reduce pain and swelling. Use of NSAIDs may cause serious stomach problems and easy bruising. In rare cases they may lead to kidney or liver problems.

  • COX-2 selective inhibitors are a new type of NSAID used to treat arthritis pain. They are less likely to cause stomach problems than older kinds of NSAIDs. Other NSAIDs should not be taken along with COX-2 inhibitors. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking COX-2 inhibitors if you have a history of heart disease.

Topical Medications

Lotions and creams can be applied directly to the affected joint. They can be used along with some oral medications.

  • Aspirin creams may reduce swelling and relieve pain.

  • Capsaicin (hot pepper cream) is made from an ingredient found in chili peppers. It works by stopping production of a substance that helps send pain signals to the brain. It may cause a burning or stinging feeling when you first use it.