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Safety of Pain Medication and Arthritis

Mar 24, 2015

Ask the Doc………

“Is it safe for me to keep taking pain medication for my osteoarthritis?”

Pain medication is sometimes necessary for those with arthritis; without it, many simply couldn’t function. But one of the most important things I learned in pharmacy school was that if and when there is a choice, the less medication you take the better. Remember that anything you put into your body that isn’t supposed to be there has risks. And even if the risks are one in a thousand, they’re 100% if they happen to you!

Certainly, these risks are greatest with prescription drugs. The fact is that if these drugs were as safe as we’re often led to believe, we wouldn’t need a signed legally binding document (prescription) that only a licensed physician can write, to purchase them. If you took a moment to read the precautionary information that accompanies these drugs, you would be much more reluctant to take them. But there can be serious complications with over-the-counter, non-prescription medications as well, and this is validated by an overwhelming amount of studies.

Despite this, there are over 13 million Americans taking anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil, Motrin and Aleve, that results in 16,500 deaths each year. Prescription drugs like Vioxx and Celebrex…although they may reduce pain..., have been shown in some instances to actually make your arthritis worse! And unfortunately, you can’t always depend upon the validity of research studies, many of which are sponsored by the drug companies who make and sell these drugs.

This is not written to scare you or to suggest in any way that you never take the medications that are prescribed by your physician. Rather, it is to suggest that you may not be aware of some things that you can do that may indeed help you either reduce your medications or perhaps not need them at all.

Although it is commonly accepted that osteoarthritis of our weight-bearing joints has no known cause or cure, it does. Abnormal friction and pressure wears away joints in the very same way that poorly aligned tires wear abnormally and prematurely. You don’t simply get pain in your knee or hip because you reached a certain age. If you did, everyone of a certain age would have these joints hurt and many don’t. Many also often have only one knee or hip joint that hurts; certainly the other one isn’t any younger. And in cases where both knees or hips hurt, one always starts first and is more severe. Again, the other knee or hip isn’t any younger. Research from famed institutions like the Mayo Clinic, are now validating the important role of abnormal alignment as a primary factor in osteoarthritis of these joints and not age.

To be clear…..age and excessive weight are indeed factors in osteoarthritis, but they are secondary factors to abnormal alignment. If you walk with a really flattened foot for seventy years, yes age is a factor, but if you were properly aligned, you may never have had your knees or hips hurt no matter how long you lived.

Having yourself structurally evaluated to eliminate simple things like a longer leg or flattened foot (examples of the real structural causes of osteoarthritis) can go a long way in saving your knees, hips and other joints and helping you avoid drugs that can indeed have serious implications. And if such structural problems are eliminated and pain medication is still necessary, you will generally need far less and it will be much more effective.

A former reconstructive foot and ankle surgeon, past Clinical Instructor of Medicine at Emory, and Fellow of the American College of Rheumatology, Dr. Pack practices in Greensboro and Atlanta. He treats athletes at all levels and works with patients who have arthritis and want to remain active. In the 2004 Olympics he had a silver and gold medalist, and helped the UGA Golf Team (2005 NCCA National Champions). For further information please contact him directly at 706-454-0040 or or see His new book, The Arthritis Revolution, Latest Research on Staying Active Without Pain Medication or Surgery, is available on or


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