When pain relief medications aren't helping, your doctor may recommend injectable medications for directly treating OA affected joints.
Corticosteroid injections, also called cortisone shots, are usually given by your doctor to specific joints, including the knees, ankles, spine, and shoulders. The number you can take yearly is limited because of side effects.
Side effects include infection, allergic reaction, pain and site injection swelling. Serious side effects are bleeding in joints, tendon rupture, bone weakening, trouble breathing and swelling in face, tongue, lips or throat.
The FDA first approved hyaluronic acid injections in 1997 to treat OA pain. They involve injecting joints with hyaluronan, an artificial form your body's joint lubrication fluid, which tends to be low in OA sufferers.
A 2006 review out of the University of Queensland in Australia reviewed 76 clinical studies of hyaluronic acid injections for treating knee OA. The review found patients using these injections were showing pain reductions of up to 54 percent.
The researchers of the Queensland study also determined hyaluronic acid injections worked as well as NSAIDs and lasted longer than corticosteroid injections for osteoarthritis.
Hyaluronic acid injections may help you to get through OA flare-ups and are relatively safe. Side effects include minor pain at the injection site and minor joint fluid buildup.
Your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxers to mange OA pain, especially if it affects the muscles and spine.
Muscle relaxers are generally given for short-term use and when OA pain affects your ability to sleep. Side effects of muscle relaxers include drowsiness and muscle tightening and cramping.
Topical Pain Medications
Topical creams, gels, sprays and patches can offer OA pain relief when applied to the skin. Many of these topical medications are available over-the-counter and some require a prescription.
Some people get pain relief from using topical OTC medications, but research shows only moderate results. Topical pain relievers may be more effective when used with NSAIDs.
Active ingredients of OTC topical pain medicines may include capsaicin, salicylate (a pain reliving chemical found in aspirin), and counterirritants, such as menthol and camphor, which produce hot and cold sensations to supersede your ability to feel pain.
Some studies suggest that topical NSAIDs work as well as oral equivalents. The FDA has approved the topical NSAID diclofenac for treatment of OA pain in the joints close to the skin's surface, including hands and knees.
Your doctor may recommend OTC topical pain medications or prescribe topical NSAIDS because of their low risk of stomach irritation. Side effects of topical pain medicines include infections, allergic reaction, pain, tingling, burning sensations, and flu-like symptoms, including body aches, headache and fever.