As mentioned in our ‘treatments overview‘ page, there are no treatment options that can reverse the osteoarthritis process, including medications. Therefore people with knee osteoarthritis who use medications do so to help control their symptoms. Information in this section provides you with more information about medications for knee osteoarthritis.

Let’s start by watching our video with Associate Professor Dawn Aitken, a medications researcher, who will take you through some basic information about how medications can be used to help you manage your knee osteoarthritis.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

There are a few medications that can help with your knee osteoarthritis. But its important to note that no medications fix or cure your osteoarthritis. Instead they can help to improve symptoms such as pain. Below is some basic information about medication options. 

Anti-inflammatories (for example ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen)

  • Probably show the most promise at controlling symptoms for people with knee osteoarthritis.
  • There are two types – oral (medications you swallow) or topical (for example creams).
  • Topical anti-inflammatories are generally advised before oral anti-inflammatories as they are safer.
  • HOWEVER it is important to note that anti-inflammatories are not suitable for everyone. For example, some people who also have other medical conditions like gastrointestinal or heart conditions are not recommended to use these medications.
  • There are also many side effects associated with these medications (for example gastrointestinal issues)



  • Used to be a common medication provided to people with knee osteoarthritis to help control symptoms.
  • HOWEVER improvements in pain are very small and have not been found to be clinically effective in scientific trials. For example, they often do not work better than a placebo.
  • There is also emerging evidence to suggest that paracetamol is linked to a number of side effects (for example gastrointestinal issues)


Opioids (for example tramadol)

  • These are strong prescribed pain relievers.
  • They are generally not recommended for people with knee osteoarthritis as the harms outweighs any benefit. For example, harms include increased frequency of dizziness, risks of falls and fractures compared to anti-inflammatories, plus can lead to addiction, overdose and dependency issues

Remember – medications shouldn’t be used as a standalone treatment but instead should be used in conjunction with first-line treatments. They should also not be considered a long-term solution.

Of all available medications, anti-inflammatories show the most promise, however many people are not able to use them due to their side-effects.

Paracetamol is recommended in some guidelines but they may not be effective at reducing pain.


It is very important that people with knee osteoarthritis who use medications (to help control their symptoms) still engage with first-line treatments of education and self management, exercise and physical activity, and weight management.


It is important to remember that medications are a second-line treatment. Some people with knee osteoarthritis may need to use medications in the short-term to help manage their symptoms, however over time as you learn more about the condition, causes of symptoms, improve your self-management skills and get fitter and stronger, the reliance on medications should decrease.


It’s also important to consider the medications pyramid. Generally you want to take the least toxic form of medication that works for you (e.g. start at the bottom and work you way up if necessary).


Another important thing to consider is that it is possible to move down the medications pyramid as well as up. For example if you have a particularly bad time with symptoms and need to take ibuprofen, you are not ‘stuck at this level. The next time you need medications, you can try using a topical gel.


It is important that you discuss any medications with your GP or pharmacist. 

Injections are another medication option for people with knee osteoarthritis. If you would like to learn more about it now, please click here to go to our page within third-line treatments.

Next – Injections