There are few absolutes in medicine. Even the worst medications have some role for some people. But there are some medications that are likely over used when it comes to relief of joint pain. In some situations, these medications are in fact appropriate and can be used carefully. In particular, short term usage may be safely used, but long term usage in most circumstances should be avoided. Unfortunately the list of medications below are over utilized and some physicians do not consider other better alternatives. If you haven’t considered alternative options, relying on only these meds can be dangerous.
1. NSAIDS (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as alleve, advil, naprosyn, diclofenac, indomethacin, etc): These pain killers can help with pain, but the list of their side effects makes one wonder why they are considered first line treatment and why they are so easily available over the counter. If the risk of kidney damage, bleeding, liver injury, stomach ulcers, and heart disease are not enough, consider that these meds also impair the body’s normal ability to repair itself.
2. Steroids: Whether given by mouth or injection, these medications should be used in specific situations only, rather than the shotgun approach that is usually applied. Steroids can help in specific situations of overwhelming inflammation, but are frequently used too much. Long term effects are disastrous, such as adrenal shut down, infections, diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, muscle weakness, mood change, and osteoporosis. If you require steroids of any type, you should also ask your physician what is the long term treatment plan since steroids alone should not be the only solution.
3. Narcotics: Strong narcotic pain medications used regularly and chronically may be necessary for certain end stage and extreme situations. But the risks of long term dependency is serious and is appropriate only in specific situations.
A good rule to follow consistently in medicine is to always consider your other treatment options. If you have joint pain and have used NSAIDS, steroids, or narcotics, make sure you understand the risks of these treatments. Make sure you have explored the other options as well, such as physical therapy to correct bio-mechanical imbalances, regenerative treatments such as PRP and Stem cells to help repair damage, bracing options, and safe nutritional supplements that can assist with joint pain.