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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. 

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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.

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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.