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Spotlight on analgesics as part of osteoarthritis management

Analgesics are the name for any medicine that relieves pain. You may also know them as pain relievers.

There may not be a cure for osteoarthritis pain, but there are strategies that can help. Self-management techniques such as physical activity, diet and pacing are ways to help manage pain in osteoarthritis. Many different medicines can assist with osteoarthritis pain. This article will provide you with some information about these analgesic medicines for osteoarthritis. They are only a part of pain management in osteoarthritis.

Paracetamol has long been the first medicine used for osteoarthritis pain. This is due to its safety and fewer side effects compared to other pain relievers. However, new research shows that paracetamol may not be as effective for osteoarthritis pain as previously thought. Therefore, many treatment guidelines no longer have it as the first-line analgesic. However, if you are already taking paracetamol for your osteoarthritis pain and find it works for you, you should continue to take it.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are now considered the first line of medicine for osteoarthritis pain. Some examples of NSAIDs in Australia include diclofenac, ibuprofen, celecoxib, and naproxen. Research has shown that they are better pain relievers than paracetamol. However, NSAIDs might not be appropriate for everyone due to some of their possible side effects. These can include kidney problems, stomach bleeds, triggering asthma, ulcers and a raised chance of stroke and heart attack. Talk to your doctor to make sure NSAIDs are suitable for you. There are many types of NSAIDs in Australia. It is essential to make sure you don’t double up on taking two different NSAIDs.

You can buy many topical products for osteoarthritis. Topical products are medicines you use or apply to the skin. These can be gels, creams, sprays and even patches. Topical products are separated into two categories.
1. NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) products
2. ‘Active ingredient’ products

Research for topical NSAIDs has focused mainly on knee-only osteoarthritis. These have been proven effective at relieving this pain, and specific guidelines have been the first line of treatment. For non-knee-only and multiple joint osteoarthritis, the evidence remains uncertain. There are many ‘active ingredient’ products on the market with many different ingredients. This is because there are so many ingredients, but the evidence levels range from product to product. Ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice.

Opioids may be used to help with osteoarthritis pain, though the Australian guidelines do not recommend them. This is especially true for long-term use. Opioids can have many side effects, including addiction, when used for longer. If you have concerns about opioids, talk to your doctor.

Many different medicines in Australia may help with arthritis pain. It is important to talk to your doctor for advice on medication and supplements. If you have questions about medicines, your local pharmacist can help. Your local arthritis affiliate and NPS MedicineWise are also good sources to contact for up-to-date information on medicines and how to manage your osteoarthritis.

About the Author:

Ben Trobbiani is a health educator who works for Arthritis SA. Before starting with Arthritis SA, Ben was a community pharmacist, giving him a skillset of explaining the complexities of medications to the general public.

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