Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are seen as a catch-all cure for everything from headaches to post-workout strains. It’s estimated that 15 percent of people in the U.S. take NSAIDs like ibuprofen, naproxen, regularly, and when you include occasional users, over 30 billion doses of the drug are taken annually.
When so many people swear by the stuff, it’s not surprising that you might reach for ibuprofen to deal with knee pain. But shockingly, it might make your problem worse, suggests a recent study.
Specifically, when it comes to arthritic knee pain resulting from osteoarthritis, ibuprofen may be your knees newest nemesis.
Researchers compared 277 people who treated their osteoarthritis with NSAIDs for at least a year with 793 people with the same condition who abstained from the medicine. Participants were also given MRI scans of their knees at the start of the study and again after a four-year follow up.
When researchers compared the scans, they noticed that people who took NSAIDs had noticeably worse cartilage quality and more inflammation in their knees compared those who did not take the drugs.
“NSAIDs are frequently used to treat pain, but it is still an open discussion of how NSAID use influences outcomes for osteoarthritis patients,” study lead author Johanna Luitjens, said in a statement.
Luitjens, who is an M.D. in the department of radiology and biomedical imaging at the University of California in San Francisco, added that in this large sample “we were able to show that there were no protective mechanisms from NSAIDs in reducing inflammation or slowing down progression of osteoarthritis of the knee joint.”
While the results are preliminary and set to be presented at the upcoming annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, Luitjens suspects that NSAIDs don’t prevent against something known as synovitis, or swelling in the connective tissue in joints like the knee and shoulder.
Likewise, it’s possible that NSAIDs are a little too good at relieving knee pain, which makes them place further wear and tear on them over time, when you should be listening to your body instead. Even if that means enduring a creaky old knee on a rainy day.
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