Does acetaminophen (Tylenol) help osteoarthritis pain?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a drug that may help relieve pain for people with mild or moderate osteoarthritis. It does not slow the progress of the disease or reverse it. Unlike NSAIDs, it does not reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen is a low-cost treatment with few side effects when taken as directed, but is only mildly effective for relieving arthritis pain. Treatment guidelines recommend trying it before other drugs that have more side effects, such as NSAIDs or opioids. 

This answer was adapted from Sharecare's award-winning AskMD app. Start a consultation now to find out what's causing your symptoms, learn how to manage a condition, or find a doctor. 

Most experts on osteoarthritis consider acetaminophen the initial medication of choice for controlling pain if lifestyle and self-help measures are not sufficient. Some brand names include Tylenol, Anacin-3, Datril, Liquiprin, Panadol, Phenaphen, and Valadol. Acetaminophen also is found in some combination drugs, such Tylox. There are no differences in efficacy or safety among brands, including store brands.

Acetaminophen is an effective pain reliever, does not act against inflammation or irritate the stomach, and is somewhat less likely than NSAIDs to cause long-term side effects. Before choosing or adding other pain medications, it is recommended that patients first try increasing the dose of acetaminophen to the full amount recommended—about 1,000 mg four times per day.

Continue Learning about Acetaminophen

What is a safe alternative to acetaminophen for children?
Univ. of Nev. School of Medicine, Family MedicineUniv. of Nev. School of Medicine, Family Medicine
Children's ibuprofen (such as Children's Motrin) is a safe alternative to acetaminophen for children...
More Answers
What are the possible side effects of acetaminophen?
Scott D. Martin, MDScott D. Martin, MD
Acetaminophen (Tylenol and other brands) is less likely to cause gastric bleeding than other pai...
More Answers
Play It Safe When You Take Acetaminophen
Play It Safe When You Take Acetaminophen
How to Bring Down a HIgh Fever
How to Bring Down a HIgh Fever

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.