Arthritis Pain Relief: Does Acetaminophen Help?

Some guidelines recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol and other generics) as one of many options for arthritis pain relief. Nevertheless, findings from a 2015 study, reported in The BMJ (British Medical Journal), demonstrated that it provides only minimal benefit for hip or knee pain caused by osteoarthritis.

Given concerns that acetaminophen can be toxic to the liver if consumption exceeds 4,000 mg—the maximum recommended daily dose from all sources—the authors of this study wanted to determine whether the benefits of acetaminophen outweigh the risks. They evaluated data from 13 clinical trials and found that people with hip or knee osteoarthritis who were treated with acetaminophen (most at 4,000 mg daily) showed only minimal short-term improvements in pain, barely better than others who took placebo pills.

Also, people who took acetaminophen were nearly four times more likely than nonusers to have abnormal results on tests of liver function. While that didn’t necessarily mean that these patients suffered liver damage, it suggested that the limited benefits acetaminophen offers for hip or knee osteoarthritis (or low back pain) may not be worth the risk.

If your arthritis-related hip pain isn’t relieved by acetaminophen, talk to your doctor about other drug and nondrug options.

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HealthAfter50 was published by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, providing up-to-date, evidence-based research and expert advice on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of health conditions affecting adults in middle age and beyond. It was previously part of Remedy Health Media's network of digital and print publications, which also include HealthCentral; HIV/AIDS resources The Body and The Body Pro; the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter; and the Berkeley Wellness website. All content from HA50 merged into Healthcentral.com in 2018.