Medications to Treat Shoulder Arthritis

Various types of drugs are used to treat shoulder pain from arthritis and related conditions.

Medications to ease pain and inflammation, slow bone loss, slow or halt disease progress or prevent joint damage are important in treating many shoulder problems. Medications used to treat arthritis and related conditions that affect the shoulders are:

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Including more than a dozen different drugs, some of which are available without a prescription, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to help ease arthritis pain and inflammation. They are used for all forms of arthritis. Most NSAIDs are taken orally, but topical preparations are available, such as Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel and Pennsaid.

Corticosteroids. These quick-acting drugs, similar to the cortisone produced by the body, are used to control inflammation. If inflammation is due to a systemic inflammatory disease, your doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids. If inflammation is limited to one or a few joints, your doctor may inject a corticosteroid preparation directly into the joint.

Analgesics. Analgesics, which include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and opioids, are commonly used for arthritis in the shoulder and other joints. They also may be used to relieve pain from other shoulder problems or surgery. Unlike NSAIDs, which target both pain and inflammation, analgesics are designed purely for pain relief. They may be a better option for people who are unable to take NSAIDs due to allergies or stomach problems, for example. Opioids, available only by prescription, are typically used short-term. They may be appropriate for longer-term use under the direction of your doctor, but they have significant side effects, including dependency and addiction.

Other topicals. A variety of salves, creams, gels, patches and other topical treatments contain various active ingredients to relieve pain. Sold as Aspercreme, Ben-GayCapzasin-PEucalyptamint, Icy Hot and others, they may be effective for pain in muscles and soft tissues that are not too deep from the skin’s surface.

Disease modifying antirheumatic drugs. These are drugs that work slowly to modify the course of inflammatory disease. Different disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) may be useful for a number of different forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, which can affect the shoulders.

Biologic response modifiers. These work systemically to change the course of disease, which may cause pain in the shoulders as well as other joints. A number of biologics and copycat versions called biosimilars are approved to treat several forms of inflammatory arthritis and related conditions, but not osteoarthritis. Unlike DMARDs, which work to suppress the immune system, each biologic blocks a certain step in the inflammation process without suppressing the entire immune system. In addition to rheumatoid arthritis, certain biologic agents may be used in juvenile idiopathic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, lupus and psoriatic arthritis.

Osteoporosis medications. Osteoporosis medications are those used to slow the loss of bone or help the body build new bone. Although they are not used specifically to treat shoulders, strong bones are less prone to fracture. Osteoporosis is the main cause of shoulder fractures in older people.

Published 6/7/2021

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