Treating the Symptoms v. Addressing the Inflammation
No matter which one of the 100+ versions of arthritis you might have, you will experience some level of joint pain. That’s literally the nature of the diagnosis, and the pain you feel can do more than cause mild discomfort – it can slow you down to the point that routine movement hurts. And since one of the best things you can do to combat the effects of arthritis is regular exercise that gets your joints moving, you don’t want to be hampered by your pain.
The logical thing to do is to take some sort of pain-relieving medicine so your body doesn’t hurt. But this then begs the question: “What IS the best medicine for my arthritis pain?”
This is an important conversation to have, because not only should you compare the different over-the-counter medications, but you have to account for prescription pain relievers and new-school supplements.
Understanding the Basics
The medicines you can use to treat your arthritis can be lumped into two basic categories:
- Those that treat the symptoms of your arthritis (i.e. pain and stiffness); and
- Those that address the inflammation you experience because of your arthritis.
In other words, the medicine you choose to use depends upon what your doctor decides the best course of treatment, as some forms of arthritis respond better to one school of drugs than the other. To take it a step further, within those two larger groups, there are five basic types of medicine that have proven most effective at treating arthritis so you can move without pain and enjoy your normal routines once again:
Let’s explore those now.
Technically called “Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs,” NSAIDs are more commonly understood as drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. Simply put, by taking these everyday over-the-counter drugs, you are treating the pain caused by the inflammation in your joints and reducing the inflammation in those joints caused by your arthritis.
But you’re technically not addressing the arthritis itself – just the symptoms of your condition. Then again, what matters with many forms of arthritis is that you get your body moving, so taking a pain reliever helps with this because your body doesn’t hurt nearly as much.
You can now take NSAIDs as topical creams, which reduces the chance of any side effects from this school of medicines, as you apply the cream directly to the impacted area, instead of taking it orally (which sends the drug to your entire body).
You’ll recognize this drug as acetaminophen or the brand name of Tylenol, but it also includes tramadol and anything containing oxycodone. In other words, this is strictly a pain reliever that comes in both over-the-counter and highly regulated formats. And while these drugs are excellent for your pain and have fewer potential side effects than NSAIDs, they don’t control your inflammation in any way, so you will still experience swelling in your joints.
We’re getting into the serious stuff here, as these treatments can be taken as simple tablets or as drugs injected directly into the impacted area of your body. Steroids are typically recommended as treatment for any serious inflammation you might experience with osteoarthritis and other versions of arthritis that attack the cartilage and connective tissues in your body.
Because steroid treatments have been linked to the development of osteoporosis, such treatments are meant to address short-term flare-ups. If you experience deepening pain and symptoms, you should speak to your doctor for longer-term options.
Operating under the full name of “Disease-Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs,” DMARDs are exclusively employed on the inflammation that attacks your joints. By going after your arthritis directly, the drug treats the disease by preventing your immune system from processing any irregular auto-immune reactions. Because of the impact this medicine can have upon your normal immune system, you will undergo periodic blood tests to ensure the efficacy of the drug and your body’s overall wellness.
Technically a subset of DMARDs, Biologics are also employed directly against inflammation and the degeneration of your connective tissue. But they receive their own spot on this list because, by speaking directly to white blood cells, they can target specific areas of your immune system more effectively, this providing greater long-term relief to your arthritis.
Is There a “Best” Medicine for My Arthritis?
You might have noticed that we didn’t actually answer that question. That’s because one single answer doesn’t exist. Just like there are over 100 different types of arthritis diagnoses, how your doctor chooses to treat your specific arthritis condition is specific to your body. You could be prescribed a range of treatment options, from taking a couple doses of a NSAID every day so you can be pain-free enough to exercise every day to a steroid shot, medium-range Biologic regimen, and everything in between.
What matters is that you have options. We encourage you to speak with your doctor about your arthritis diagnosis about what’s right for you, including paying a visit to a specialist who can address your needs with an experienced eye.