Whether you suffer with acute or chronic pain, you need relief. However, as the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) states in their booklet Questions & Answers about Arthritis Pain, the type of pain differs from person to person, and so do the causes. This means there's no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Also, some medications are used to treat either rheumatoid arthritis, or osteoarthritis, or both. Here's a brief look at some of the common medications NIAMS states can be used to treat arthritis.


These medications target pain only, not inflammation. They are the most common forms of relief for arthritis patients, especially those suffering from osteoarthritis (OA). Acetaminophen is the most well-known.

Stronger analgesics, such as codeine and hydrocodone, contain opiates or opioids, and are often referred to as narcotic analgesics. Some are mixed with acetaminophen, such as brands like Percocet and Darvocet. Also, there is an opioid patch called Duragesic, which releases pain relief directly through the skin. This may be an especially good option for children suffering with juvenile arthritis who prefer not to take pills.

Drug names and brands: Non-narcotic - acetaminophen (Tylenol). Narcotics include methylmorphine or codeine (Tylenol 2, 3 and 4); oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet); hydrocodone and acetaminophen (Vicodin); oxycodone/aspirin (Percodan); Fentanyl patch (Duragesic).

Side effects include: Addiction, constipation, drowsiness, dry mouth, heart rate problems, kidney problems, nausea, respiratory depression, vomiting.


Often referred to as biologics, these drugs are genetically engineered living organisms, such as a virus, gene or protein. They are primarily used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and are given by injection or intravenous infusion. However, oral forms are on the horizon.

Three brands, Enbrel, Humira, and Remicade reduce inflammation in the joints by inhibiting an immune system protein called tumor necrosis factor. Kineret fights joint inflammation by blocking the chemical interleukin-1, which affects a variety of cells in the joints and exacerbates rheumatoid arthritis. Orencia inhibits signals that activate the immune system's T-cells, which are key players in RA development.

Drug names and brands: Abatacept (Orencia); adalimumab (Humira); anakinra (Kineret); etanercept (Enbrel); infliximab (Remicade).

Side effects can include: Skin reactions; nausea; upset stomach; immune suppression and higher risk of infections, including to tuberculosis (TB) and some diseases, such as cancer.


These hormone-based medications can be taken orally or by injection. Some studies, including one published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, have shown that low-dose corticosteroids given for two years can prevent joint damage.

Prednisone is frequently given orally to reduce inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis. Corticosteroid injections can relieve pain from both RA and OA. However, because they are administered directly into joints they shouldn't be done more than once or twice a year so as to avoid joint damage.

Drug names and brands: Corticosteroids include dexamethasone (Decadron); methylprednisolone (Depo-Medrol, Medrol); prednisolone (Prednisolone, Pediapred); prednisone (Meticorten, Sterapred); and triamcinolone (Aristospan).   

Side effects include: Cataracts; diabetes; fluid retention; glaucoma; high blood pressure; mood swings; muscle weakness; osteonecrosis or softening or destruction of the joint; osteoporosis; sleeping problems; susceptibility to infections.


These drugs are often prescribed for new RA sufferers, or when nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen, don't relieve RA symptoms. DMARDs can take a while to kick in, sometimes as long as three to four months. They are designed to rectify immune system problems that cause inflammation and can lead to permanent joint damage.

Drug names and brands: DMARDs include auranofin (Ridaura); chlorambucil (Leukeran); cyclosporine (Neoral); hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil); leflunomide (Arava); methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall); and penicillamine (Cuprimine, Depen).

Side effects can include: Dizziness; mouth sores; skin reactions; stomach upset; weakening of the immune system and greater risk of infections.


Among the more commonly known drugs in the world, these medications help reduce pain and inflammation. They can be used for short term relief or for longer periods by people with RA or OA. NSAIDs also include COX-2 inhibitors, which block an enzyme that cause inflammation.

Drug names and brands: Aspirin (Bufferin, Bayer, Excedrin); diclofenac (Voltaren); ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin); naproxen (Aleve); COX-2 inhibitors (Celebrex).

Side effects can include: Allergic reactions; digestive tract ulcers; gastrointestinal discomfort; high blood pressure; kidney problems; increased risk of heart attack and stroke (from COX-2 inhibitors).

Additional source: Drug brand names are taken from drugs.com