Managing arthritis with medicine

Receiving an early formal diagnosis is a great way to begin understanding your arthritis and developing a plan for managing it.

A combination of treatments can be made by your healthcare team. It is very important to stick to the dose recommended by your healthcare team and take them only as advised. If you have questions and concerns including possible side effects about your medications, speak to your specialist, doctor or pharmacist.

Read more below about medical management of arthritis.

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Medication and Arthritis
Surgery and Arthritis
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Medication and arthritis

Pain relievers (Analgesics)
Pain relievers are often the first medicine your doctor will recommend to help with the pain of Arthritis.

Some relievers are available without a prescription, while others must be prescribed by a doctor. It is important to tell your doctor all the medications you are taking even if they have not prescribed it.

Paracetamol

Paracetamol is a common treatment to help with all types of pain. Paracetamol is in many over the counter products such as cold and flu medications or in combination with other pain relievers such as paracetamol and codeine or paracetamol and anti-inflammatories.

It is very important to not double up on this medication as it can cause you harm. If you have any questions, your pharmacist or doctor will be able to guide you in the correct way to take this medication.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs reduce inflammation, joint swelling, stiffness.

They are often used in the treatment of arthritis.

They can also relieve pain that is not controlled by other pain relievers. Some NSAIDs are available without a prescription, while others must be prescribed by a doctor. It is important to not double up on taking two NSAID’s unless recommended by your doctor. To learn more, download the NSAID fact sheet.

Corticosteroids
Corticosteroids are used to reduce the inflammation and swelling in Arthritis. It is very important to take these only as prescribed by your doctor.
Creams and gels (topical analgesic medications)

Topical analgesics are sometimes called ‘joint pain relief creams’, ‘muscle pain relief gels’, or something similar. Topical analgesics are medicines that contain ingredients to reduce inflammation or pain that are rubbed into the painful area. It is best to talk to your pharmacist, doctor, or specialist before starting a new cream or gel to make sure it’s right for you. For more information, click on the NPS Creams and Gels link.

Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
DMARDs are used to treat inflammatory forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

There are a number of different forms of medications that fall under the broad family of ‘DMARDs’. These specialized medications are prescribed by Rheumatologists. DMARDs act on the immune system to cause ‘immunosuppression’. This reduces the activity of the immune system which is attacking and damaging healthy joints. This can not only relieve symptoms but also reduce the risk of long-term damage to your joints.

To learn more about medicines and arthritis download the ‘medicines and arthritis’ information sheet which provides general information about the main types of medicines used for arthritis. It also has tips on the safe use of medicines and where to go for further information.

Useful links & resources

Who’s who in your healthcare team? Part 1 – The Medical Team
Who’s who in your healthcare team? Part 2 – Allied Health
Info & Links

Surgery and arthritis

Joint replacement
Joint replacement involves replacing a damaged joint with an artificial joint.

In 2019 there was over 115,000 knee and hip replacement surgeries in Australia.

Joint replacements were once only offered to older people with severe arthritis of the hip or knee. Now they are increasingly performed on younger people if there is a need. This is largely due to advances in materials being used to build artificial joints, making them longer-lasting, as well as options such as partial joint replacements and other less invasive procedures. The procedure is also available for shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, ankles, toes and intervertebral discs in the spine. There is no ‘right time’ to have a joint replacement, and there are many factors to weigh up when considering surgery.

Talk to your doctor and specialist about the benefits and risks and if this procedure is right for you.

Most types of surgery for arthritis are performed to:

  • relieve severe pain that has not responded to other treatments
  • improve movement and use of a joint, for example improve flexibility of your hip to allow you to walk and sit more comfortably
  • improve alignment (position) of joints, for example straighten finger joints to allow you to grip and hold objects

This can help make daily activities easier and improve your quality of life.

Conditions that may lead to joint replacement are:

  • osteoarthritis
  • inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • trauma or injury
  • birth defects and growth disorders
  • certain fractures that don’t heal properly – the most common is a fracture at the top end or ‘neck’ of the thigh bone (femur) near the tip
  • avascular necrosis – interruption of the blood supply of a bone, leading to the death of bone tissue
  • severe infections of joints
  • cancer in or near a joint

To learn more about joint replacements and surgery download the information sheet which provides an introduction to the most common types of surgery for arthritis, tips when speaking to your doctor, and how to be prepared for it. The booklet Joint Replacement provides a more in-depth look at why surgery may be needed, the causes, life before and after surgery and the long-term outlook.

Useful links & resources