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Diseases > Osteoarthritis | OA > Medications for OA

Medications for Osteoarthritis

Most medications for OA are geared towards pain control. Unfortunately, there are no medications available that have been shown to alter the progression of the disease. That means that once a joint is damaged, no medicine is able to undo or repair the damage. However, medications can help make living with OA much more comfortable and help to improve function and mobility.

For more information about specific medications used to treat OA, refer to the “pictopamphlets” in the medications section of this website.


Non-prescription analgesic medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) only control pain. They do nothing to control the disease or to prevent further joint damage. However, this type of medication can be effective for some people with OA. It has been shown to be safe when used even for long periods of time.


Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs or NSAIDs are medications that reduce the inflammation of joints caused by OA. They also help to reduce symptoms such as pain. Luckily there are about 20 different anti-inflammatory medications available. So if one doesn’t work for you, try another.

Corticosteroid Injections

Some patients benefit from cortisone injections directly into a joint. This type of treatment can reduce the pain and swelling in joints affected by OA. It can take up to 24 or 48 hours before you feel the effects of a corticosteroid injection. Once the effects set in, they can last for a few days up to a few months – it depends on the individual person and the joint. Usually, corticosteroid injections are limited to 3 or 4 in a single joint per year.


When non-prescription analgesics and NSAIDs are not enough to control joint pain caused by OA, stronger medicines called opioids may be used. These should be discussed with your doctor. While opioids can be very effective at controlling pain, they should be used with caution. These drugs can cause dependence and have been associated with drug abuse. Examples of opioids include codeine, morphine, and oxycodone.

Natural Remedies / Complementary Therapies

Many people with OA turn to natural remedies and/or complementary therapies to help relieve their pain. Glucosamine tablets, magnets, energy bracelets, MSM, and acupuncture are common examples. It’s important to know that there are no known natural remedies or complementary therapies that have been proven to help OA in any significant way. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Remember, once a joint is damaged by OA, it can’t be fixed by any medication, natural remedy or complementary therapy.

Nevertheless, some people with OA feel better when they use these therapies. If you choose to use natural remedies or complementary therapies, you should inform your doctor. Some medications may interact with these products.


In the most severe cases of OA the joints are so badly damaged that they lose their ability to function. When that happens, surgery may be necessary to restore a person’s mobility and quality of life.

Surgery is arguably the most effective form of treatment for OA. It usually involves replacing a damaged joint with an artificial joint, most commonly the hip or knee. Surgery can help people with severe, advanced OA by reducing pain, improving their mobility and restoring their functioning. While surgery has revolutionized the treatment of OA, it is also associated with potential risks. You should talk to your doctor to find out if surgery is right for you.