≡ Menu

Latest News

What are NSAIDs? How Do They Work? Houston Ortho Physician Answers

Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.

NSAIDs – that’s short for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – are some of the most commonly prescribed medications for treating pain and inflammation. No doubt, you’re already familiar with ibuprofen (an NSAID) in the form of Advil, Motrin, or Midol. As an orthopedic and sports medicine physician, I frequently prescribe NSAIDs to my patients. This class of medication is used to provide pain relief, reduce inflammation, and lower fevers.

How do NSAIDs work?

NSAIDs function by preventing cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes. COX enzymes (there are two, COX-1 and COX-2) have several jobs. COX-2 enzymes are the ones we’re interested in for this discussion. COX-2 enzymes are responsible for causing inflammation in joints. NSAIDs are COX-inhibitors, which means that they step in to prevent these enzymes from causing inflammation. This is the short version of how NSAIDs reduce inflammation!

The majority of NSAIDs don’t discriminate between COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes. While COX-2 enzymes are the true NSAID targets, COX-1 enzymes (which protect the lining of the stomach) get caught in the crossfire. This is why traditional NSAIDs always come with the warning that stomach pain and bleeding can occur through the use of these drugs. (This is also, in part, why your bottle of ibuprofen warns against exceeding a certain dosage within a 24-hour period.)

Are NSAIDs safe?

In most contexts, yes, NSAIDs are safe and effective drugs for reducing inflammation and managing pain caused by arthritis and other forms of joint irritation. However, the use of any prescription NSAID (and some over-the-counter ones, depending on your medical history) should always be discussed with your physician.

Are NSAIDs right for my joint pain?

Only a physician can answer this question. Generally, NSAIDs may be prescribed for arthritis and joint inflammation, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. NSAIDs are a “first-line therapy” (one of the initial pain management techniques attempted after the diagnosis of a disease). For more suggestions on how to treat pain from arthritis, view this recent blog post.

To learn more about arthritis – and whether or not some form of this disease could be the cause of your joint pain – take the brief questionnaire below. Someone from our offices will contact you about the results.

Take the Arthritis Assessment

Schedule Your Appointment With a Houston Orthopedic Physician

To schedule your appointment with an orthopedic physician in downtown Houston, call Houston Institute for Sports Medicine and Orthopedics at (713) 756-5546. You can also schedule your appointment online.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.