Arthritis is one of the most common causes of pain experienced in one or more joints, such as the wrist, knee, or elbow. More than 54 million people in the United States experience arthritis, which causes joint tenderness or swelling, and is the leading cause of disability.

There are more than 100 types of arthritis, but osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two of the most common. While there is no cure for arthritis, there are simple things you can do to help relieve pain and inflammation.

Causes and Symptoms of Arthritis

The causes of most types of arthritis are not known. However, there are several risk factors that could increase a person’s chance of developing arthritis, including:

  • Age – The risk of developing arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, increases with age
  • Gender – Arthritis occurs more often in women than in men
  • Weight – Being overweight puts extra stress on the joints that support a person’s weight
  • Work factors – Jobs in which the worker keeps doing the same movements over and over, or does a great deal of heavy lifting, can cause stress on the joints and/or injury

Arthritis symptoms may vary depending on the type of arthritis you have, but common symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Stiff and swollen joints
  • Redness
  • Tenderness
  • Decreased range of motion

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms in or around one or more of your joints, it is best to speak with your doctor. Doctors usually diagnose arthritis based on medical history, a physical examination, X-rays, and blood tests.

Treatments for Arthritis

While there is no cure for arthritis, there are many ways to control your pain, minimize joint damage, and improve or maintain your physical function and quality of life. Speaking with your doctor and understanding the specific type of arthritis you have can help to determine what you should include in your personalized arthritis treatment toolkit.

At-home Treatments and Therapy

  • Weight loss – Losing weight can help alleviate stress and pressure on your joints
  • Exercise – Regular exercise and activity can help keep your joints loose and flexible
  • Physical therapy – Physical therapists can work with you to identify stretches, exercises, and movements to help alleviate stress and pressure in your joints
  • Ice and heat – Alternating the application of ice and heat to your joints can help alleviate arthritis pain

Over-the-Counter Medicines

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers can provide temporary relief from minor arthritis pain.

OTC pain relievers come in many forms. Some are taken orally in pill, capsule, or liquid form, and include medicines containing acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. Our Pain Reliever Assessment will help you identify personal risk factors that you can discuss with your healthcare professional to find the right oral OTC pain reliever for you.

There are also OTC topical pain relievers, which are applied to the skin. Common active ingredients in these medicines include diclofenac sodium, capsaicin, menthol, and methyl salicylate.

When taking OTC pain relievers, it is important to understand that each medicine has potential side effects and interactions with other drugs. Always read the Drug Facts label on the medicine’s bottle or packaging to determine whether you have any risk factors related to the medicine’s active ingredients.

OTC medicines can provide safe and effective relief for mild to moderate pain. However, they aren’t meant to treat chronic pain conditions on a consistent or long-term basis, unless as directed by your healthcare professional.

Find out which oral over-the-counter pain relievers are right for you.

Complete our Pain Reliever Assessment to learn how your personal risk factors can influence which OTC pain relievers you should use.

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When to Talk to a Healthcare Professional

When you first notice pain in a joint, it is common to think it is due to an injury. However, if your symptoms persist, it is time to schedule an appointment with your doctor. If you have symptoms beyond pain, such as warmth, redness, and swelling around a joint, see your doctor sooner rather than later.

Your doctor can diagnose arthritis and work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan. No matter what treatment your doctor recommends, seek medical help right away if the pain becomes intense, your joint suddenly becomes inflamed or deformed, or you can no longer use the joint at all.

Learn More About Pain Management

There is a lot to consider when choosing a form of pain management that works best for you. Understanding which treatments are appropriate for you is important.

Take our Pain Reliever Assessment to learn about your personal risk factors and which oral OTC pain reliever is right for you.

Read our Expert Advice articles to learn how to use OTC medicines safely and effectively.