Pharmaceutical treatment of osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2023 Apr;31(4):458-466. doi: 10.1016/j.joca.2022.11.005. Epub 2022 Nov 19.


Objective: To review the current state of pharmaceutical treatment recommendations for the management of osteoarthritis.

Method: A narrative review was drafted to describe treatment guidelines, mechanism of action, pharmacokinetics, and toxicity for nine classes of pharmaceuticals: 1) oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), 2) topical NSAIDs, 3) COX-2 inhibitors, 4) duloxetine, 5) intra-articular corticosteroids, 6) intra-articular hyaluronic acid, 7) acetaminophen (paracetamol), 8) tramadol, and 9) capsaicin.

Results: In general, oral and topical NSAIDs, including COX-2 inhibitors, are strongly recommended first-line treatments for osteoarthritis due to their ability to improve pain and function but are associated with increased risks in patients with certain comorbidities (e.g., heightened cardiovascular risks). Intra-articular corticosteroid injections are generally recommended for osteoarthritis management and have relatively minor adverse effects. Other treatments, such as capsaicin, tramadol, and acetaminophen, are more controversial, and many updated guidelines offer differing recommendations.

Conclusion: The pharmaceutical management of osteoarthritis is a constantly evolving field. Promising treatments are emerging, and medicines that were once considered conventional (e.g., acetaminophen) are gradually becoming less acceptable based on concerns with efficacy and safety. Clinicians need to consider the latest evidence and recommendations to make an informed decision with their patients about how to optimize treatment plans for patients with knee, hip, polyarticular, or hand osteoarthritis.

Keywords: Osteoarthritis; Pain management; Pharmaceutical; Pharmacological; Practice guideline.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Capsaicin / therapeutic use
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee* / drug therapy
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Tramadol* / therapeutic use


  • Acetaminophen
  • Tramadol
  • Capsaicin
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations