OTC Arthritis Medication: What You Need to Know

Find out everything you need to know about over-the-counter options with this guide to OTC arthritis medication options. 

Pharmacist and consumer discussing medication in pharmacy aisle

When choosing an over-the-counter arthritis medication, there are a few things you need to take into account. Arthritis is one of the top causes of pain worldwide and although there are numerous ways to manage this pain1—there is no known cure.2 However, over-the-counter (OTC) arthritis medication is one way to help relieve symptoms and manage the pain that comes with this uncomfortable health condition. Read on to find out what to look for when selecting the best OTC arthritis medication for your body’s needs. 

Finding the Right Treatment for Arthritis Pain

Osteoarthritis, which is typically related to aging or injury, is the most common kind of arthritis3 and affects over 30 million Americans.4 Because osteoarthritis breaks down the healthy cartilage in a person’s joints, it can cause pain, swelling, and reduced motion, most typically in the hands, knees, hips, or spine.5 Many find that using an arthritis medication is one way to manage the symptoms of pain, swelling, and reduced motion that osteoarthritis causes.6

Oral Pain Relievers vs. Topical Pain Relievers

Oral pain relievers are medications that are taken by mouth such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Topical pain relievers are those that are applied to the skin directly at the site of pain. Examples of topical pain relievers include diclofenac, methyl salicylate, camphor and menthol.

Arthritis sufferers can choose a pain relief option that best suits their individual needs based on factors such as severity of their pain, underlying health conditions, and pill burden. It is best to read the labels for each product to determine which might be best for you.

OTC Pain Relievers: What Are My Options?

Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen is an analgesic (pain reliever) and antipyretic (fever reducer). It is approved for use for the minor pain of arthritis. It is also approved to relieve minor aches and pains due to headache, muscle ache, backache, toothache, and menstrual cramps.7 While the way acetaminophen works is not fully understood, it is believed to elevate the pain threshold. This allows you to tolerate more pain, therefore providing pain relief.7

Oral Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are also an option for treating arthritis pain. Oral NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. Oral NSAIDs are approved to treat the minor pains of arthritis as well as other minor aches and pains such as headache, backache, toothache, muscle aches and menstrual cramps. NSAIDs work by temporarily blocking the production of pain signaling chemicals called prostaglandins.6

Topical NSAIDs

Like oral NSAIDs, topical NSAIDs work by blocking the production of pain signaling chemicals. The difference is that topical NSAIDs are applied to the skin at the site of pain. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR), a leading professional arthritis association, strongly recommends topical NSAIDs, like Voltaren Arthritis Pain, for patients with knee osteoarthritis.

Diclofenac

One example of a topical NSAID is diclofenac gel (1%). It is approved to treat arthritis pain in the hand, wrist, elbow, foot, ankle, and knee. It works by penetrating deep through the skin to target arthritis pain at the site.8

Other topical treatment options for minor arthritis pain include products that contain capsaicin, menthol, camphor, and more. Capsaicin creams create a heating sensation on the skin and help by reducing the chemical that nerve cells use to send pain signals. Topical treatments that include camphor and menthol produce a hot or cold sensation that can distract your brain from the arthritis pain.9

We hope this guide to OTC arthritis medications has helped you understand the different options out there for pain relief. Explore more articles from Voltaren for resources on understanding your pain and living with arthritis.

Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel, now available without prescription, was previously doctor prescribed in the US for 10+ years and is clinically proven to be an effective anti-inflammatory pain reliever with a proven safety profile. Learn more about Voltaren.

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