Prescription Medication for Knee Pain
Prescription medication is usually a more potent pain reliever than the over-the-counter variety. These include prescription-strength NSAIDs and COX-2 inhibitors (meant to decrease gastrointestinal side effects like stomach bleeding). These drugs are typically used if your pain level is considered moderate to severe. The only COX-2 inhibitor currently on the market is celecoxib (Celebrex). Rofecoxib (Vioxx) and others were removed from the market because it was discovered that they led to an increased risk of heart complications.
Bargar says that although the data wasn’t completely clear, the consensus was to remove Vioxx and valdecoxib (Bextra), both COX-2 inhibitors, from the market because of associated cardiac issues. Celebrex was not shown to have a significant increased risk of heart problems. “I don’t think [COX-2 inhibitors] work better than standard anti-inflammatories, they just don’t have the gastrointestinal side effects,” he says. “I would prescribe Celebrex for someone who isn’t tolerating conventional NSAIDs because of GI side effects.”
Bargar also advises people with knee pain who are taking large doses of ibuprofen regularly to have blood tests every four months to check for kidney toxicity and anemia.
Injectable Medication for Knee Pain
Injecting medication to reduce knee pain is usually the step between taking oral medication and replacing arthritic knee joints with surgery. Corticosteroids or viscosupplementation with hyaluronic acid can be injected when knee pain becomes severe.
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- Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and offer pain relief and are injected directly into the knee. These injections aren’t permanent solutions, and you may need to return for repeat injections every few months (though not to exceed four injections in the same joint per year).
- Viscosupplementation is an injection of hyaluronic acid that lubricates your joint to reduce knee pain and increase mobility. A series of three to five weekly injections is necessary to complete the therapy. These injections are helpful if you have early stage arthritis and haven’t responded well to oral medication.
“The whole concept of viscosupplementation was developed by rheumatologists to get some lubrication into the joint, but I found it doesn’t work very well,” Bargar says. “It’s also expensive, but a lot of people will try it before surgery.”
If you have modest knee pain caused by a simple strain, try an over-the-counter medication. If your knee pain or injury is severe, visit your physician for a prescription medication that may improve your particular condition.