Types of Osteoarthritis Medications and Treatments

Medically Reviewed on 10/13/2022

What are osteoarthritis medications?

Osteoarthritis medications are drugs used in the treatment of osteoarthritis, a painful condition that affects joints. Medications cannot cure osteoarthritis, but provide symptom relief and may halt or slow down the progression of the disease, and prevent joint damage.

Medications used to treat osteoarthritis relieve pain, reduce inflammation in the joints, and prevent the complications that arise from osteoarthritis. Currently, there are no effective disease-modifying medications to treat osteoarthritis.

The most commonly used medications in the management of osteoarthritis include

  • opioid and non-opioid painkillers (analgesics),
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and
  • corticosteroids.

What are the types of osteoarthritis medications?

The different types of medications prescribed for osteoarthritis help alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. The types of medications used in osteoarthritis treatment include:

How do osteoarthritis medications work? Side Effects


Analgesics provide pain relief but do not affect swelling or inflammation. Analgesics include two types, opioid and non-opioid. Some non-opioid medications are available over the counter, but stronger medications need a prescription. Opioid analgesics are more potent painkillers than non-opioid ones, but carry a high risk for addiction.

Analgesics used to treat osteoarthritis include:


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs block the production of inflammatory chemicals and reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain from osteoarthritis. NSAIDs do not prevent the progression of the disease or joint damage. Anti-inflammatory drugs used for osteoarthritis include:

A combination formulation of NSAID and calcium channel blocker reduces pain and inflammation, and in addition, lowers blood pressure. The FDA-approved combination NSAID/calcium channel blocker drug for osteoarthritis patients with hypertension is:


Corticosteroids are potent anti-inflammatory drugs that may be prescribed as tablets or injections in the joints. Corticosteroid injections administered in the joints reduce osteoarthritic knee pain within a week after the injection and the effects may last up to six weeks or more. Extended-release injections may provide pain relief for up to 12 weeks.

Corticosteroids prescribed for osteoarthritis include:

Muscle relaxers

Muscle relaxers or relaxants relax the muscles by inhibiting the nerve signals to break the pain-spasm reaction in the muscles. Muscle relaxants are useful as adjunct therapy to reduce diffuse and chronic pain from osteoarthritis. Muscle relaxants used for osteoarthritis include:

SNRI antidepressants

SNRI antidepressants increase the level of hormones such as serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain by preventing their reabsorption by the brain cells. The higher levels of these hormones help reduce chronic pain from osteoarthritis. The SNRI medication approved by FDA for chronic musculoskeletal pain is:

Miscellaneous medications

Hyaluronic acid is a component of synovial fluid, the natural lubricant of joints. A substitute lab-produced lubricant approved by FDA specifically for injection into the knee joints is:

  • Hyaluronic acid (Euflexxa, Hyalgan, Orthovisc)

Medications that help prevent bone loss from osteoporosis include:

Dietary supplements

Certain oral dietary supplements are thought to reduce osteoarthritis pain, but studies do not show a significant benefit and they are not regulated by FDA. It is important to check with the doctor before taking such supplements.

The dietary supplements commonly used singly or in combination include:

Warnings and precautions

  • Please visit our medication section of each drug within its class for more detailed information.
  • If your prescription medication isn’t on this list, remember to look on MedicineNet.com drug information or discuss it with your healthcare provider and pharmacist.
  • It is important to discuss all the drugs you take with your doctor and understand their effects, possible side effects, and interaction with each other.
  • Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting with your doctor.


What joints are most often affected by osteoarthritis? See Answer

What is the best treatment for osteoarthritis?

Effective treatment for osteoarthritis may involve a combination of lifestyle modifications, medications, and other therapies, depending on the severity of the condition. Weight reduction and physical activity are important components of osteoarthritis management. Surgical procedures may be required to treat severe stages of osteoarthritis.

10 Treatments for osteoarthritis include the following:

  1. Medications
  2. Physical and occupational therapy
  3. Assistive devices such as splints or braces for the affected joint
  4. Joint injections
  5. Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS)
  6. Surgical therapies such as:
  7. Joint repair
  8. Joint fusion
  9. Joint replacement
  10. The latest treatments under investigation for osteoarthritis include stem cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma injections into the joint to promote cartilage growth.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a joint disease in which the cartilage, a rubbery tissue that acts as a cushion between bones in joints, gradually breaks down. The breakdown of cartilage causes joint inflammation. The loss of the protective cushioning eventually leads to bones in the joints rubbing directly against each other, resulting in pain and stiffness.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, which is a broad term for more than 100 types of joint diseases. Arthritic diseases affect joints, muscles, bones, and structures around the joints such as cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative type of arthritis that worsens over time if untreated and can lead to chronic pain, joint deformity, and disability. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint including finger joints, which is common, but predominantly the disease affects weight-bearing joints such as:

  • Hips
  • Neck region (cervical) of the spine
  • Lower back
  • Knees
  • Feet

Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Common symptoms from osteoarthritis in the joints include:

  • Pain and stiffness
  • Redness and warmth
  • Tenderness and swelling
  • Creaking, locking, and reduced range of motion
  • Weakness and wasting of muscle around the joints
  • Bone spur development

Osteoarthritis causes and risk factors

Osteoarthritis most often starts in middle age, though it can also occur at a younger age. Osteoarthritis is more common in women than men, possibly because of weight gain and other bodily changes that happen with menopause in many women.

The most common risk factors for osteoarthritis include:

  • Advancing age
  • Excess weight
  • Weak muscles
  • Inherited genetic susceptibility
  • Reduced levels of sex hormones with menopause in women
  • Wear and tear from repetitive use
  • Joint injury and/or surgery
  • Congenital conditions affecting joints
  • Joint infections
  • Other disorders that affect joints


What joints are most often affected by osteoarthritis? See Answer

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Arthritis Newsletter

By clicking "Submit," I agree to the MedicineNet Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy. I also agree to receive emails from MedicineNet and I understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet subscriptions at any time.

FDA Logo

Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

Medically Reviewed on 10/13/2022