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What is the best prescription medicine for arthritis pain?

Andrew Bellingham

Andrew Bellingham

Pharmacist | 20+ Years | BPharm | Dip Clin Pharm

Arthritis is a common condition that affects millions in the UK, causing joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation.

Arthritis comes in different forms, with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis being the most common. Osteoarthritis happens when the protective cartilage between bones wears down, while rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder causing joint inflammation.

Untreated arthritis can lead to long-term complications, like joint deformities and loss of function. But with the right medication and treatment plan, you can better manage your condition and improve your quality of life.

How to ease arthritis pain

From painkillers to anti-inflammatory drugs, there are various options available to help reduce pain, common symptoms and enhance your mobility.

Whether you’re considering painkillers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or steroids, understanding how these medications work and their potential benefits and risks is essential for making informed decisions about your treatment.


When it comes to easing arthritis pain, two common options are paracetamol and co-codamol.

Paracetamol is often the first choice for mild to moderate arthritis discomfort. It works by blocking pain signals in the brain. You can easily get it over the counter as tablets or liquid.

If your arthritis pain persists despite taking paracetamol, your doctor may prescribe co-codamol. It combines paracetamol with codeine, an opioid pain reliever. This combination provides stronger pain relief, but as long-term use can lead to dependence, your doctor will only prescribe it if they think it’s necessary.


NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are medications often prescribed to manage arthritis pain and reduce joint inflammation. 

There are two main types: traditional NSAIDs like ibuprofen, naproxen, and diclofenac, and COX-2 inhibitors such as celecoxib and etoricoxib.

Traditional NSAIDs work by blocking enzymes that produce substances causing pain and inflammation. COX-2 inhibitors target a specific enzyme involved in inflammation, potentially with fewer stomach-related side effects.

When discussing NSAIDs with your doctor, they’ll consider your medical history and current medications to recommend the most suitable option for you. However, it’s essential to be aware of potential risks associated with NSAIDs, including stomach ulcers, bleeding, and cardiovascular issues.

To reduce these risks, your doctor may suggest using NSAIDs at the lowest effective dose for the shortest time possible. They might also prescribe additional medication, like proton pump inhibitors, to protect your stomach lining while taking NSAIDs.


Steroids are strong medications commonly used to ease arthritis symptoms like pain, stiffness, and inflammation. They can be taken as tablets (like prednisolone), injected directly into a painful joint, or into a muscle to help multiple joints.

Usually, steroids are used for short periods, especially during flare-ups or while waiting for other medications to work. However, long-term use can lead to serious side effects like weight gain, bone weakening, bruising, muscle weakness, and skin thinning.

Because of these risks, your doctor will closely monitor your steroid use and adjust your treatment plan as needed. Before starting steroid treatment, discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor to ensure the safest and most effective approach for managing your arthritis symptoms.

Frequently asked questions about treating arthritis

What are the most effective prescription medicines for arthritis pain relief?

The best prescription medicines for arthritis pain relief include NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, and COX-2 inhibitors like celecoxib.

How can I ease arthritis pain without medication?

To ease arthritis pain without medication, try low-impact exercises like swimming, apply hot or cold packs, and maintain a healthy weight.

What are the side effects of NSAIDs for arthritis treatment?

Common side effects of NSAIDs for arthritis treatment include stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, increased risk of heart attack or stroke, kidney problems, and high blood pressure.

An older lady receives her medication from a pharmacist to help treat her arthritis pain

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