Personal care treatments

Two-thirds of seniors with arthritis use over-the-counter treatments, but many don’t consult a clinician about drug risks

A new survey of American adults finds that 80% of older Americans with arthritis or joint pain believe they could manage their symptoms on their own without the help of a doctor, and 66% say they use painkillers over the counter such as aspirin or acetaminophen.

The survey also found, however, that the majority of respondents who use 2 or more substances for their pain had not received advice from a healthcare provider about the potential risks associated with their use.

The discoveries of the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging showed that 70% of adults aged 50-80 said they currently experience symptoms of arthritis or joint pain, and 60% said they had ever been told by a healthcare professional that they had arthritis. Among adults with symptoms of arthritis or joint pain, 55% rated the symptoms as moderate or severe, 49% said the symptoms limited their usual activities, 45% experienced symptoms daily, and 36% said the symptoms were interfering with their daily life.

Additionally, among adults with joint pain, 80% were confident (24% very, 56% somewhat) that they could manage their symptoms on their own. The results showed that the majority of adults with arthritis (66%) had used over-the-counter pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, for example, aspirin or ibuprofen) or l acetaminophen for symptoms in the past year. More than a quarter (26%) of adults with arthritis reported taking supplements (eg, glucosamine or chondroitin), while 11% reported using cannabidiol (CBD, a derivative of marijuana) and 9% marijuana.

A smaller proportion of adults reported using prescription treatments, including prescription-only non-opioid pain relievers (18%), oral steroids (14%), opioids (14%) and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (4%), according to the survey results.

“There are considerable risks associated with many of these treatment options, particularly when taken long term or in combination with other medications. Yet 60% of those who take two or more substances for their joint pain said their healthcare provider didn’t tell them about the risks, or they couldn’t remember if they had. And 26% of those taking oral steroids had not spoken with a provider about the particular risks these drugs carry,” said Beth Wallace, MD, MS, rheumatologist, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare system, in a University of Michigan press release.

“This suggests an urgent need for providers to talk with their patients about how to manage their joint pain, and the long-term interactions and risks that might arise if they use medications to do so,” Wallace added.

Wallace also noted in the statement that the American College of Rheumatology, in its latest clinical guidelines, highlights an evidence-based approach to pain management in osteoarthritiswhose survey showed that 30% of adults said they had been diagnosed in the past year.

The guideline emphasizes non-pharmacological therapies such as weight loss; exercise; Tai chi; self-management programs with arthritis educators; braces, splints and kinesiotaping; acupuncture or acupressure; cognitive behavioral therapy; and applying heat, cold, or topical pain relievers to painful joints.

To manage symptoms, the current survey showed that 64% of adults with arthritis exercised, 24% used physiotherapy, 13% used braces or splints and 5% used acupuncture or splints. acupressure.

Additionally, the survey showed that certain groups of older people were more likely to experience more severe joint pain, particularly at a level that interfered with their life or activities.

“Those who say their overall health is fair or poor were twice as likely to say they have moderate or severe joint pain as those in better health. The difference was almost as large between those who say their mental health is fair or poorer than those who reported better mental health,” poll director Preeti Malani, MD, a Michigan physician with a background in infectious diseases and geriatrics, said in the statement.

“And older people with fair or poor physical or mental health were much more likely to agree with the statement that there is nothing anyone with joint pain can do to relieve their symptoms, which is what we now know. “Health care providers need to bring up the topic of joint pain with their elderly patients and help them develop a plan of care that might work for them,” Malani continued.


The National Poll on Health Aging survey was administered online and by telephone in January and February 2022 to a randomly selected stratified group of US adults aged 50-80 (n=2277). The sample was weighted to reflect US Census Bureau population figures.