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Are Your Painkillers Making Your Arthritis Worse?

NSAIDs—non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs—are typically any arthritis sufferer’s go-to medication for pain and inflammation. In fact, in the US alone, over 50% of patients with osteoarthritis (OA) are prescribed NSAIDs.

According to new research however, NSAIDs could be doing more than good for OA sufferers. A study published in Rheumatology shows that NSAIDs may be negatively affecting the Joint Space Width (JSW) of OA patients who are currently taking prescription medication. Their research shows significant JSW loss across an eight-year period for regular NSAID users versus those who aren’t.

JSW is typically used as an indicator to understand how far OA has progressed.

Is Your Ibuprofen Making Your OA Worse?

No one can say anything definitively—yet. So before you stop using your NSAIDs to treat OA pain, take note of the following:

  • The recent study is an observational trial that highlights the association between JSW and OA. It can’t prove that NSAIDs are directly responsible for cartilage loss as even the authors of the study aren’t able to isolate the effect of NSAIDs on underlying disease or severity of arthritis.
  • However, it was able to successfully establish the connection between effects of NSAIDs and JSW despite variables such as age, sex, and BMI (body mass index). The study was able to show that current users of NSAIDs demonstrated increased JSW loss compared to non-users. 
  • This particular study specifically looked at prescription NSAID use, not lower-dose, over-the-counter alternatives that are more accessible to OA patients. It’s entirely possible that users of prescription-strength NSAIDs are trying to manage more severe disease activity versus those who use OTC remedies.


For now, Dr. Arthritis would recommend that you closely follow the advice of your healthcare team and a trusted physician, especially when it comes to your arthritis treatment plan and pain management. 

Awareness and understanding on how recent research is advancing the study of a condition as debilitating as arthritis is important. Especially when findings show that available treatment options, even ones we’ve relied on for years, need to be better studied for efficacy and safety. Until then, we will be on the lookout for extensive clinical data to further confirm how NSAIDs could affect OA symptoms.

Click here to read more. 

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