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What type of painkiller for arthritis pain relief is right for me?

Weighing up the risks and benefits
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

When you’ve got arthritis you just want the pain to stop. There are plenty of options when it comes to relief. It’s a matter of deciding with your GP which is the best for your situation.

The pain caused by arthritis is the most common kind in the UK. Ten million people in the UK have some form of arthritis. There are two main types - osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. They are two distinct conditions; both are painful but they are treated in different ways.

Losing weight and taking exercise may help to reduce the pain of osteoarthritis, which may allow you to cut back on painkillers.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease and if it isn’t treated the condition may progress and worsen.

Some arthritis medications may increase your risk of certain conditions, but they may give you much needed relief and allow you to go about your normal life. It’s a case of weighing up your personal risks and benefits.

Boots WebMD asked Olivia Belle from Arthritis Research UK about pain relief options and considerations.

How do you make a choice about pain relief when you hear news about risk factors for certain medications?

At Arthritis Research UK we understand how painful and debilitating living with arthritis can be on a daily basis. However, there is a lot you can do to manage your pain, including non-pharmaceutical interventions.

If you are worried about the side-effects of certain medications, we suggest you discuss any worries with a healthcare professional, as they will be able to suggest what the best possible pain management options are for you, and assess if the benefits outweigh the risks.

When is a simple over-the-counter painkiller like paracetamol advised?

You can take paracetamol for mild to moderate pain caused by osteoarthritis. However, paracetamol may not be so useful on its own for inflammatory forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, because it doesn’t have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Side-effects with paracetamol are rare with short-term use, though a few people may develop a rash. Research has also shown that long-term use may affect your cardiovascular system and kidneys, so you should use it with care and stay within the recommended limits. Many other products contain paracetamol so you should be aware of this if you’re taking paracetamol alongside cold or flu remedies.

What are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and when are they recommended?

NSAIDs are helpful in the treatment of many different types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, because they relieve pain and stiffness.

They can slightly increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, so they’re very unlikely to be prescribed if you have heart disease, had a heart attack or stroke or had circulation problems in your limbs.

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