Making The Right Medication Choices For Acute And Chronic Arthritic Pain

The human response to pain is instinctive. When something hurts, we want to make it stop hurting. Medicine offers a variety of medications to address pain. At Summit, we are committed to choosing medications that will support long-term quality of life as well as short-term pain relief.

Millions of Americans live with arthritis, and many of them struggle with the most common symptom of this disease: pain. Although arthritis cannot be cured, the pain caused by arthritic joints can be managed through a variety of treatments, including medication.

“In the treatment of arthritis, we address two types of pain: acute and chronic,” explains Summit orthopedic surgeon and arthritis subspecialist Dr. Dane Hansen. “Acute pain can be characterized as a sudden, intense flair of discomfort in an arthritic joint. Chronic pain, on the other hand, describes the long-term pain that accompanies the degeneration of an arthritic joint over time.

“There are two types of pain medications used to manage arthritic pain,” Dr. Hansen continues. “Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, work by relieving the inflammation in arthritic joints. The other medication option for pain relief is opioids, or narcotics. Narcotics don’t relieve the source of the pain. Instead, they work by blunting the sensations of pain, providing a sense of euphoria and some anxiety relief. Research tells us that both types of medication work equally well to reduce pain symptoms, but both medication types have long-term side effects that can have serious consequences for our patients. At Summit, we are particularly concerned about the addiction risk that accompanies long-term use of opioids.”

Hansen explains that the medical use of narcotics to treat pain has led to an explosion of addiction. “We are seeing a prescription opioid addiction crisis in this country,” he says. “It’s a social as well as an individual problem. From a medical standpoint, it’s hard to convey the real cost of addiction through a clinical list of risk factors. We can talk about constipation and dependence as risks of opioid use—but that does not adequately portray the devastation of chemical dependency when it begins to affect job performance and relationships, and triggers the entire spectrum of problems linked to addiction. These drugs can destroy lives.”

Summit Orthopedics shares the commitment of several medical societies that are organizing national health initiatives to reduce the use of opioids. “At Summit, we are focused on managing pain in the most appropriate way,” explains Dr. Hansen. “If one of my arthritis patients experienced an acute flair just before a once-in-a-lifetime 60th anniversary cruise trip, I would certainly prescribe an appropriate opioid medication to give short-term relief so that he or she could have a positive, quality-of-life experience. On the other hand, we will not prescribe narcotics to manage chronic conditions causing pain that continues for more than a month. At Summit, we are focused on managing pain, but with care that will maintain quality of life and overall health.”

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  • Dane Hansen, D.O.

    “Arthritis patients have high expectations for their activity level. With advanced training in minimally invasive surgical techniques and quick-recovery joint replacement, I strive to help my patients return to their fully active lifestyle as quickly as possible.”

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