Arthritis Treatments

Arthritis Medications

For many women living with arthritis, medications are a critical part of their successful treatment and pain relief plan. While there are no known cures for arthritis, many effective treatments exist, especially for inflammatory arthritis. 

Getting the Facts

Medications are often a critically important part of a successful arthritis treatment plan, and new advancements in medication treatments have expanded the options available to women living with arthritis. Decisions around medications, however, can be very difficult to make. Getting all the facts about the medication choices available to you will help you feel more comfortable and confident in your decision.

Once your Doctor has made a medication recommendation, it is up to you to decide what is best for you, your family, and your life. You and your Doctor should discuss the pros and cons of using the recommended medication. Ask questions and gather as much information you can.

Essentially, there are two categories of medications: medications to treat symptoms and medications to treat the underlying disease The second category of medications are used only in some forms of inflammatory arthritis.

Category 1. Medications to treat symptoms
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ("NSAIDs") such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and diclofenac
Over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen
Opioids, such as oxycodone
Steroids, such as prednisone (generally not used for osteoarthritis)

Category 2. Medications to treat the underlying disease
Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs ("DMARDs") such as methotrexate, sulfasalazine, hydroxychloroquine, leflunomide and azathioprine
Biologic DMARDs, also known as biologic response modifiers including abatacept (Orencia®), adalimumab (Humira®), anakinra (Kineret®), etanercept (Enbrel®), infliximab (Remicade®), and rituximab (Rituxan®)

Shoppers Drug Mart Pharmacists are health care providers who are knowledgeable about medications. They can offer personalized assessments and provide helpful advice and guidance on medications and pain management. 

Non-Medication Treatment

In addition to medications, a well-rounded treatment plan for women living with arthritis includes taking control of your disease and making sure your body is as healthy and strong as possible. This means eating well, taking the right vitamins and minerals, maintaining a healthy body weight and doing the right kinds of exercise. 

Exercise Now

Today's baby boom women, (born between 1946 and 1965) are the most physically active senior women generation in history. In order to keep up their healthy lifestyles and youthful attitudes, women need to immediately take steps toward early diagnosis and prevention of arthritis. 

Exercise is especially important if you live with the joint pain and stiffness of arthritis. It may seem daunting at first, but in the long-run exercise will help manage your symptoms and you will feel better. The Arthritis Research Centre of Canada says that regular, moderate physical activity strengthens bones and muscles, decreases fatigue and increases stamina and muscle flexibility. The kinds of exercises you can perform may vary depending on the severity and types of conditions you have.

With any exercise plan, there are some guidelines women should know about and follow in order to meet with success.  High impact, joint punishing exercises such as contact sports, long distance running, or heavy weight lifting should be avoided, especially during flare-ups. It is important not to over stress and over work joints while they are inflamed. 

As a precaution, women living with arthritis should not start an exercise program without first checking with their Doctor or Physiotherapist.
Low-impact exercise / high-impact benefit

Walking, bicycling, yoga, tai chi, Pilates, low impact aerobics, swimming and water aerobics are types of low-impact exercises. Regardless of their age, women living with arthritis and its associated pain can participate in low-impact exercises. A bonus is that low-impact exercise decreases stress levels and helps to improve the way you feel. 

Strengthening Exercises

Appropriate stretching and strengthening of muscles and tendons surrounding affected joints can help to keep them stronger and healthier and may be effective at reducing pain and maintaining mobility. There are two types of strengthening exercises: isometric and isotonic. Isometric exercise is the contraction of a specific muscle, without moving the joints. Isotonic exercise involves using your own body weight, added weight, or exercise equipment to create resistance on the muscles.

Staying In Motion

Range-of-motion exercises move your joints through their full normal range. These exercises should be done at least once a day to keep, or increase, joint flexibility, reduce stiffness and pain, and to help with performing everyday activities. Stretching is done to gradually increase muscle flexibility. To avoid injury during an exercise routine, stretch beforehand as a warm-up. However, it should be noted that overstretching an actively inflamed joint could cause damage. Therefore, we recommend consulting with a health professional if you are uncertain about how to do stretching exercises or to find out if stretching is suitable for your joint condition.

Healing Waters

Water provides an excellent medium for exercising. The buoyancy of your body in water means less weight on the main weight bearing joints (feet, ankles, knees and hips) to allow for freer, less painful movement while still providing resistance to muscles. Simply walking through the water in a swimming pool protects joints and lessens possible pain, while providing a workout with 12 times the resistance of walking on land.

Rounding Out Your Exercise Plan:

Warming Up

Warming up before exercising is a good idea for everyone, but is particularly important if you have arthritis. Vigorous exercise without a proper warm up can make joint pain worse. Start your exercise routine with stretching and range of motion exercises before moving on to strengthening or aerobic activities. Applying a heating pad or hot pack to your joints or taking a warm shower or bath before exercising can help loosen your muscles and joints. When you begin exercising, use gentle movements to avoid stressing stiff joints and gradually increase the intensity of your movements as your joints relax.


For many women, yoga is joining the treadmill and stationary bike as a way to safely and effectively increase physical activity. Having arthritis should not prevent women from trying yoga as an alternative to traditional exercise. 
More than 75 scientific trials have been published on yoga in major medical journals that show it is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity. Yoga can increase muscle strength, improve flexibility, enhance respiratory endurance, and promote balance—all elements that may be especially helpful for women with arthritis. And, because of its meditative nature, yoga has many psychological benefits, such as relieving depression, anxiety and stress.

Nutrition and Arthritis

Although there are no miracle diets for arthritis, a diet based on nutrient balance, variety and moderation may help you maintain or lose weight and feel better. Certain types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, may see more improvement than other forms due to diet and lifestyle changes, especially when the changes result in reaching a healthy body weight. Regardless of the arthritis type you live with, you cannot go wrong by eating a healthy diet. 

Try to eat a wide variety of foods. A well balanced diet is the best way to get most of your vitamins and minerals. Educating yourself and making permanent changes to your lifestyle can optimize your health, and long-term weight control is often the result.

Some women may need supplements, but it is important to speak with your Doctor or Pharmacist to ensure you are not taking anything that may interfere with your medications. 

Finding the right balance in your diet and lifestyle is not complicated, but it can take a while to break bad habits. Do the best you can and be patient with yourself.

Vitamins and Minerals

Maintaining recommended levels of important vitamins and minerals in the body is important for everyone, and this is especially true for women with arthritis. For many people with severe arthritis, active disease makes it challenging to prepare and eat the wide variety of healthy foods necessary to maintain adequate vitamin and mineral levels in the body. Also, many arthritis medications are known to deplete vitamins and minerals from the body, or interfere with the body's ability to absorb these nutrients. For example, prednisone is known to impede calcium absorption.

For these reasons, many health care professionals recommend that women with arthritis take vitamin supplements. A high-quality multivitamin is a good first step. For others, further supplements may be required. One issue experts tend to agree on is that Calcium and Vitamin D are critically important nutrients for people with arthritis. The average adult should consume 1000 - 1500 mg of calcium, and 400 - 800 IU of Vitamin D, each day. 

Before starting on any vitamin plan, speak with your Doctor, Pharmacist, or Registered Dietician.