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Non-Prescription Medicines for Osteoarthritis

Topic Overview

Medicines that you can buy without a prescription can be useful in relieving the pain of mild or moderate osteoarthritis. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

  • Try acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) first. Using it regularly can relieve arthritis pain. But if you take it often, your doctor may want you to limit how much alcohol you drink.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, are also good pain relievers, especially if you are not bothered by stomach problems. Talk to your doctor to find out the best dose for your symptoms. Also talk to your doctor before you use NSAIDs if you have had stomach ulcers, liver disease, kidney disease, heart failure, or if you will take NSAIDs daily for more than 6 months.
  • Capsaicin (Zostrix) is a pain reliever that comes in a cream. You put it directly on your skin. It has been found to relieve joint pain from osteoarthritis in some people who rubbed it into the skin over their affected joints.footnote 1 To relieve your pain, you need to use the cream 3 or 4 times a day. You may not feel better for several weeks. The main ingredient in capsaicin is an extract from hot peppers. It appears to have no serious side effects. But some people may be allergic or sensitive to capsaicin. The first time you use this cream, apply it to just a small area of skin. Make sure that you don't have an allergic reaction. Even people who aren't allergic may feel a burning sensation. Some people may not be able to stand how it feels on the skin.

Related Information



  1. De Silva V, et al. (2011). Evidence for the efficacy of complimentary and alternative medicines in the management of osteoarthritis: A systematic review. Rheumatology, 50(5): 911–920.


Current as of: April 1, 2019

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Stanford M. Shoor, MD - Rheumatology

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