Arthritis symptoms: ‘It’s questionable if painkillers even work that well,’ says doctor

Arthritis: Doctor gives advice on best foods to help ease pain

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“The use of anti-inflammatories and strong pain killers is probably greater than it needs to be,” Dr Donald Grant began, going on to cite research published in the British Medical Journal. “Research concluded that long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications – commonly prescribed in the UK for arthritic type pain – were only slightly better than placebo,” he highlighted. “Other studies looking at the value of paracetamol and ibuprofen in the treatment of arthritis could not reliably conclude whether paracetamol was better than ibuprofen, or whether either was better than nothing at all.”

Dr Grant continued: “Taking these and other studies into account, it’s questionable if conventional painkillers even work that well on reducing the pain caused by arthritis.”

In addition, the doctor pointed out that painkillers “carry many unpleasant side effects”.

“Some of the more common side effects of NSAID for longer periods of time can be an upset tummy, blurred vision, dizziness and nausea,” he clarified.

Versus Arthritis – a leading charity – stated that paracetamol can damage the liver, hence why they’re not suitable for long-term use.

Furthermore, aspirin – another type of painkiller – can cause issues with the stomach.

Ibuprofen, which is classified as an NSAID, can interact with other medications.

Other possible side effects of taking NSAIDs include:

  • Stomach aches
  • Feeling sick
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach ulcers
  • A hole forming in the wall of your stomach or bowel.

“There’s evidence that all NSAIDs are linked to a small increase in the risk of having a heart attack or stroke,” said Versus Arthritis.

“The potential risks of non-steroidals are well known, which is why some patients understandably wish to avoid taking anti-inflammatory tablets for long periods,” agreed Dr Grant.

“Anything that has similar effects on reducing inflammation without any negative side effects is, in my opinion, definitely worth trying,” he added.

So what does Dr Grant suggest? “There’s good evidence for the efficacy of long-chain fatty acids in preparations such as Celafen [cream] for the treatment of chronic joint pain and stiffness.

“In my opinion, if it can help reduce sufferer’s dependence on NSAIDs – and there is good evidence to suggest that it might – this can only be a good thing.

“Joint pain is a chronic condition and long-term use of painkilling drugs is not an ideal solution.”

Dr Grant recommends a “pragmatic” approach for the next time joints become sore and painful.

While limiting painkiller use “as much as possible”, effective alternatives – recommended by the NHS – include:

  • Applying hot or cold packs to the affected joints
  • Exercise
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).

“See if the pain can be managed and tolerated that way before resorting to painkillers,” said Dr Grant.

“Anything that can lower the reliance and habitual use of conventional painkillers is a bonus,” said Dr Grant.

“Combining [painkillers] with topical natural pain relief, with no negative side effects or time limit, is exactly what’s needed when dealing with arthritic pain,” he stated.

The use of strong painkillers, Dr Grant added, is sometimes necessary for a week or two to “dampen down inflammation”.

However, “the use of anti-inflammatories and strong pain killers is probably greater than it needs to be”.

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