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Are pain killers making my arthritis worse?

Answers provided by Dr. Joel J. Baumgartner,

M.D. (Non-Surgical Orthopedics and Sports Medicine) at Rejuv Medical, Waite Park

Are pain killers making my arthritis worse?

Anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) pain relievers like Ibuprofen and Naproxen are often the first-line treatment recommend by many medical providers and orthopedic specialists for pain related to joint osteoarthritis. Studies from the past as well as resent research are showing that they may make the degenerative condition or injury worse through the inhibition of the body’s natural healing process. New studies also show they may worsen inflammation in the knee joint over time.

Studies show that taking NSAIDs over time can result in joint inflammation and worsening cartilage quality. Contributed photo

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting over 32 million adults in the U.S. and more than 500 million people worldwide. This painful, chronic, degenerative process occurs most frequently in the hands, hips, and knees. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage that cushions the joint gradually wears away leading to inflammation, swelling, and painful dysfunctional joint.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are often prescribed for osteoarthritis pain and inflammation, but little is known of the long-term effects of these drugs on disease progression. They have multiple systemic side effects including increased risk of stroke and heart attack, increased hypertension, gastrointestinal bleeding, in addition to the negative effects on healing and long-term joint health. New study’s shed light on the impact of NSAIDs on synovitis, or the inflammation of the membrane lining the joint using MRIs. The goal of the study was to analyze whether NSAID treatment influences the development or progression of synovitis and to investigate whether cartilage imaging biomarkers, which reflect changes in osteoarthritis, are impacted by NSAID treatment.

A total of 277 participants with moderate to severe osteoarthritis and prolonged NSAID treatment for at least one year were included in the study and compared with a group of 793 control participants who were not treated with NSAIDs. All participants underwent MRI evaluation of the knee initially and after four years. The results showed no long-term benefit of NSAID use. Even more concerning was that joint inflammation and cartilage quality were worse at baseline in the participants taking NSAIDs, compared to the control group, and worsened at four-year follow-up. They concluded there was no protective mechanisms from NSAIDs in reducing inflammation or slowing down progression of osteoarthritis of the knee joint as it, in fact, worsened the condition over time.

It is important to know the evidence for anything we use for treatment of our pain and degeneration. Other research shows that taking natural supplements like Turmeric, Omega 3 Fatty Acids (Fish or Flax Seed Oil), and Collagen can decrease pain and pathologic inflammation while having a positive effect on the joint cartilage. Also, research is highlighting regenerative procedures like Prolotherapy, Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP), Alpha 2 Macro globin (A2M)-another product produced from the patient’s own blood, and Bone Marrow Derived Stem Cell treatments as treatment options without negative effects on cartilage. They all show positive effects on pain and improved cartilage health and volume.

Know the science and take control of you own health by avoiding treatments like NSAIDS and cortisone/steroid injections now shown to have detrimental effects on the spine, joints, and cartilage in our bodies.

Find Out More

Dr. Joel J. Baumgartner, M.D. is a non-surgical Orthopedics and Sports Medicine specialist at Rejuv Medical. They are located at 901 3rd Street North in Waite Park. To make an appointment or to learn more, call 320-204-6807 or email

“Ask the Expert” is sponsored content (paid advertising) provided by Rejuv Medical.

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