Many arthritis patients find that over-the-counter (OTC) drugs provide them with pain relief. Ointments like Aspercreme and Vics VapoRub are thought to work because they create new sensations that battle it out with the pain sensations, vying for spinal cord and brain precedence. Since both sensations can't pass through your spinal cord at the same time, the pleasant warmth or tingling from the over-the-counter cream might be enough to block out at least some of the arthritis-related pain.
Along with over-the-counter ointments, nonprescription analgesics are also relatively effective when it comes to stopping arthritis pain. Drugs from the anti-inflammatory family, like aspirin and ibuprofen, work to reduce redness and inflammation while killing pain, whereas drugs with acetaminophen are most likely good for pain relief alone.
While aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, has been available without prescription since 1915, ibuprofen didn't become so accessible until the mid 1970s when the FDA approved Upjohn Pharmaceuticals' marketing of Motrin. Then ibuprofen-based drugs grew quickly in popularity. Acetaminophen drugs like Tylenol are good for short-term pain relief and they cause no stomach or kidney irritation or ulcers like aspirin and other anti-inflammatories do. But acetaminophen can take a toll on your liver, particularly when you drink alcohol or have a preexisting liver disease. If you take too much acetaminophen or take it for too long, it carries the risk of causing straightforward liver failure and may even end up necessitating a liver transplant. Researchers still aren't sure what it is about acetaminophen that causes pain suppression, but they believe that it somehow makes nerves less irritable. They think that when they figure out the exact way that acetaminophen works, they'll be able to create an even better analgesic. In the meantime, though, over-the-counter drugs are still effective when it comes to treating arthritis pain.