Analgesics and osteoarthritis: are treatment guidelines reflected in clinical practice?

Am J Ther. 2005 Jan-Feb;12(1):98-103. doi: 10.1097/00045391-200501000-00013.


Osteoarthritis (OA) treatment is complex and multifactorial, with pharmacological regimens requiring sufficient flexibility to be adapted to individual disease progression, flare ups, and response to treatment. Coexisting conditions are common and can lead to problems regarding polypharmacy. Several guidelines have been published for the management of OA pain. While differences exist, most recommend paracetamol as the initial oral drug for OA, based on its efficacy, tolerability, and cost; in patients who respond inadequately to paracetamol, supplementary or replacement analgesics should be recommended. This article considers the reality of analgesic use for OA in clinical practice and the extent to which guidelines are followed both in primary and secondary care. An international survey of rheumatologists (n = 610) found that paracetamol was recommended as first-choice analgesic for OA by 82% of those surveyed. Similarly, in a survey of French GPs, 90% of those surveyed recommended paracetamol first line; NSAIDs were recommended more frequently for stronger pain relief but were also recommended alongside paracetamol as a first-line treatment of mild to moderate pain by 43% of GPs. Finally, a UK patient survey, conducted at a London hospital (n = 200), found that 64% of patients were taking more than 1 drug for treatment of painful OA of the knee or hip; 76% were taking paracetamol and 40% were taking an NSAID. A further 39% had used an NSAID in the past but switched treatment, primarily due to side effects. These findings reinforce the case for the simple analgesic paracetamol to be seen as the cornerstone of pharmacological OA treatment, both as a first-line analgesic and as a foundation to which additional treatment modalities, including NSAIDs, can be added if and when necessary.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / therapeutic use*
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / therapeutic use*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis / drug therapy*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors
  • Acetaminophen