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Analgesics relieve the pain of arthritis by elevating your threshold of pain, explains the McNeil Consumer Healthcare Division, producers of Tylenol®. Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in this product, relieves pain but does not affect the inflammation that may accompany joint pain. However, the product will not irritate your stomach, which may be an advantage to some individuals.
Drug interactions are a possibility with any medication. Always discuss your medications with your doctor before taking acetaminophen. You should also avoid taking acetaminophen with other products such as cold medicines that also contain this ingredient. You should avoid taking these products with alcohol due to the risk of liver damage.
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Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs have the advantage that they will take care of your joint pain from both fronts. These products work by blocking prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are hormone-like chemicals that your body produces in response to some kind of pain or trauma. Familiar NSAIDs include ibuprofen and aspirin.
Unlike acetaminophen, these medications can cause stomach upset and irritation. While effective, there is an increased risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular conditions if you take ibuprofen or naproxen sodium long term, warns the Arthritis Foundation.
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Several topical treatments are available as over the counter arthritis joint pain medicine that can provide temporary relief. Their effectiveness depends upon the type of medication and the form of arthritis that you have.
Counterirritants like Icy Hot® or Biofreeze® work by producing an alternative sensation of cold or hot. You may find these sensations soothing and distracting. Topical analgesics such as Bengay® allow you to apply pain medication directly to the site of your joint pain.
Finally, ointments containing capsaicin or chili pepper seeds also produce a burning feeling that may distract you from your pain. They also work similarly to NSAIDs in that they block a chemical used by your nerve cells that causes pain. Use caution when using these products, and avoid touching your eyes or face.
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Glucosamine has a long history of use for the relief of pain associated with arthritis. Of the over the counter joint pain medicine products, it differs in that you take it as a dietary supplement for pain prevention rather than for relief from an episode of pain. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, there is a significant amount of evidence supporting its use. The advantage of taking glucosamine is that you avoid the stomach upset and other drawbacks from other forms of pain medication.
However, some evidence also suggests that glucosamine is not as effective as once believed. A 2010 study in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that the supplement did not significantly relieve pain in most of the participants. In the end, it is up to you and your doctor to decide on a pain management plan. You may find that an over the counter arthritis joint pain medicine works for you. Whichever product you choose, follow the dosage instructions exactly and discontinue using them if you suffer any side effects.
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Arthritis Foundation: NSAIDs - www.arthritistoday.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Arthritis - www.cdc.gov
AD. Sawitzke et al. Clinical efficacy and safety of glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate, their combination, celecoxib or placebo taken to treat osteoarthritis of the knee: 2-year results from GAIT. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, August 2010; 69(8):1459-1464.