Medications for Joint Pain

Page content

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, roughly one in ten American adults experience joint pain for at least one year or more. Many of these adults use some form of medications for joint pain. There are a variety of different types of medications that patients can use to alleviate their joint pain and make completing their daily tasks a little easier.

Over-The-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter medications are often used because they are easy to obtain and everyone is familiar with them. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen can be found easily and are effective for many patients. NSAIDs can both help to alleviate inflammation and pain, while acetaminophen can only alleviate pain. Patients must be careful, however, because these drugs can be just as dangerous as prescription drugs. Consuming too much of an NSAID may result in bleeding, ulcers, and gastrointestinal damage. Consuming too much acetaminophen may result in liver damage. Commonly used NSAIDs include naproxen, aspirin, and ibuprofen. Commonly used acetaminophen includes Tylenol.

Oral Prescription Pain Medications

Prescription medications for joint pain are often stronger than over-the-counter medications.Commonly prescribed for joint pain. NSAIDs available by prescription are typically stronger. Common prescription NSAIDs include Celebrex (formally known as a COX-2 inhibitor), meloxicam, diclofenac sodium and indomethacin. Bleeding in the stomach is the primary side effect, with the potential for liver or kidney damage with long-term use.

Narcotic pain medications may be prescribed when the patient’s joint pain is moderate to severe. Commonly prescribed narcotics include hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl and morphine. Most of these medications come in both an immediate release and extended release form. Sedation, constipation and nausea are the most common side effects.

There is also a drug known as Ultram. This medication works to relieve mild to moderate pain. It is sometimes classified along with narcotics, but it is not a narcotic, though, it can be a beneficial pain reliever for many patients. The side effects are similar, but the risk of physical dependency is lessened.

Injectable Prescription Pain Medications

Injectable medications are typically used when other medications are not as effective as the patient and their doctor would hope to help enhance the pain relief a patient experiences. These medications are injected directly into the painful joint and side effects are minimal. These injections needed to be repeated every three to four months to maintain the benefits. Corticosteroids are commonly used and may help to decrease a patient’s pain through decreasing inflammation. There are also oral versions of this type of drug, though, most doctors will use an injection to target a specific joint and to minimize side effects.

Viscosupplementation can help to lubricate the painful joint by the injection of hyaluronic acid directly into the joint, and should increase the patient’s range of motion and reduce their pain. These injections are most often administered in a series of having three to five injections in a week. How many weeks of therapy a patient needs will depend on their response to therapy and overall condition. Most patients will have a week or two.

With injectable medications, injection-side effects may occur. This often includes temporary soreness and redness, and for some patients, temporary swelling.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2006). New Report Finds Pain Affects Millions of Americans. Retrieved on October 14, 2010 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Yoffee, L. (2009). Medication That Knocks Out Knee Pain. Retrieved on October 14, 2010 from Everyday Health: