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Drug Therapy for Pain 

It is uncommon to find a pain-relieving medicine that relieves all arthritis pain for any one person. The aim is to help control the pain so it has less effect on what you can do.

There are many different types of pain relief:

  • simple analgesia/painkillers
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatories
  • opioid analgesia
  • steroids
  • Tens machine and alternative remedies

Watch the video below to see Prof. Woolf (consultant rheumatologist) talk about taking pain killers

The following pages on osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis talk about the different types of medications in more details.

Other medicines used as analgesia

Combinations of the above drugs may be useful in some patients since the drugs work in different ways, for example, combining an NSAID and an opioid analgesic. For certain types of pain, antidepressants or anti-epileptic medicines may sometimes be used – research has shown that these medicines can be effective for certain types of pain in people who do not have depression or epilepsy.

 Some common questions

When is the best time of day to take my painkillers?

This very much depends on the sort of pain you are experiencing, and whether it is there most of the day or only at certain times. It is also easier to prevent pain than get rid of it once it has started. If you have pain most of the time, you may need to take painkillers or anti-inflammatories regularly throughout the day to have a constant pain-relieving effect.

If you only have pain at certain times of the day you should take your painkillers as and when needed. However, if certain activities tend to worsen your pain, you may wish to take painkillers 30 to 60 minutes beforehand to reduce the pain you experience.

If you find that your symptoms are worse first thing in the morning, it might be worth trying to take an anti-inflammatory shortly before you go to bed – if you do this, remember to have some food at the same time; this doesn’t need to be a meal so a light snack such as a piece of fruit or some crackers or biscuits would do.

Are the side effects worse than the benefit?

No, not in most people.  You will only be taking them if you are having pain that is affecting what you want and need to do.  You should only be using them if they are giving some worthwhile pain relief.  Most people do not get any side effects.

Will my body get used to them?

Paracetamol and anti-inflammatories will always work just as well no matter how long you take them for.  What does sometimes change is the severity of pain and the painkiller may no longer be effective enough for the more severe pain. Some people can get used to opiates and may need to adjust the dose to manage their pain.

I do not want to be addicted to them

People who use painkillers for arthritis pain do not get addicted to the types of painkillers used.  Even if you need strong opiate painkillers for severe pain, it is very unusual to become addicted to them.  The main thing is to not use a painkiller stronger than you need, or for longer than it is needed.