Arthritis has no cure, but doctors may recommend or prescribe daily ibuprofen to help ease the pain associated with arthritis.

Arthritis is inflammation of the joints, and it can be chronic or acute. Arthritis presents with several symptoms, including joint stiffness and joint deformities. The inflammation can also cause joint pain, which can be severe.

Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). As its name suggests, NSAIDs reduce inflammation without the use of corticosteroids. They have the potential to reduce the pain from arthritis by reducing inflammation.

This article looks at how a person can take ibuprofen to treat the pain associated with arthritis.

After explaining whether it works and examining its safety, the article details how to take ibuprofen for arthritis. It also discusses the potential risks of taking ibuprofen for arthritis and other ways to manage the pain.

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Alongside some other NSAIDs, ibuprofen is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a stand-alone arthritis treatment.

Generally, healthcare professionals do not recommend taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers for more than a few days in a row.

Arthritis does not always cause constant joint pain. During an arthritis flare-up, arthritic pain can suddenly worsen over short periods. A person with arthritis may get the greatest benefit from ibuprofen by taking it when arthritic pain is especially severe.

If arthritic pain persists after taking ibuprofen for several days, a person should seek a doctor’s advice. A doctor may prescribe daily ibuprofen to treat chronic pain associated with arthritis.

In these cases, a doctor may prescribe or recommend slow-release ibuprofen tablets. A person can take these once or twice per day depending on the dose.

According to 2021 research, long-term use of NSAIDs such as ibuprofen have associations with adverse gastrointestinal (GI) reactions. These can include GI bleeding and peptic ulcer disease.

To help prevent this, a doctor may prescribe medication to protect the stomach if a person needs to take ibuprofen for longer than 6 months.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, a person only taking ibuprofen for a few days can take 200–400 milligrams (mg) every 4–6 hours. In these cases, a person should not take more than 1,200 mg per day.

Unless a doctor instructs otherwise, a person should not take ibuprofen for longer than 10 days in a row.

Anyone who takes ibuprofen for arthritis should not exceed the maximum dosage unless the doctor explicitly recommends a higher one. Your doctor or the medication label can outline what the maximum dosage is for a specific strength and form of ibuprofen.

Prescription ibuprofen

A doctor will likely prescribe the lowest effective dose, for the shortest amount of time possible. Doctors will tailor the doses to each person and the dose may increase or decrease depending on symptom severity.

According to DailyMed, a doctor may prescribe up to 1,200–3,200 mg per day for rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

Those with rheumatoid arthritis may require higher doses than those with osteoarthritis. For either condition, a person should not exceed 3,200 mg per day.

Special instructions

Most experts recommend that people take ibuprofen at the same time each day, alongside food.

If GI side effects develop, people may benefit from coating the stomach. People can take the medication alongside food, milk, or non-dairy milk. GI side effects can include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • upset stomach
  • heartburn
  • stomach cramps

People should also avoid taking ibuprofen alongside any other NSAIDs.

Generally speaking, ibuprofen is a safe medication. However, it may be unsuitable for certain people.

These individuals include:

  • people with an allergy or hypersensitivity to NSAIDs
  • people with certain health conditions, including GI bleeding and heart failure
  • preterm infants, or infants who are born early

Anyone concerned that ibuprofen might be unsafe for them should speak with a doctor.

Taking ibuprofen carries some risks. Research has discovered that ibuprofen usage has several side effects, even with lower doses. They include:

These side effects do not affect everyone who takes ibuprofen. They can also vary in severity from person to person. If ibuprofen side effects feel significant, or could indicate an allergy, a person should seek a doctor’s advice.

It is also possible for some individuals to exceed the safe ibuprofen dosage. An ibuprofen overdose can cause severe GI bleeding. In some cases, it may also cause:

  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • seizures
  • hypotension
  • respiratory problems
  • high blood pressure

An ibuprofen overdose is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

Research has shown that some medications interact with NSAIDs, sometimes in harmful ways. These include:

  • certain immunosuppressants, such as cyclosporine (Gengraf, Sandimmune, others) and tacrolimus (Prograf, Astagraf XL), causing kidney damage
  • anticoagulants, such as clopidogrel (Plavix), causing bleeding
  • blood pressure medications, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • some diuretics

Individuals considering ibuprofen for arthritic pain may want to seek a doctor’s advice. Doctors can advise about which medications to avoid while taking ibuprofen.

Doctors can also recommend alternative medications for arthritic pain, which might work better than ibuprofen.

There are many different medications for treating arthritic pain. However, their efficacy varies.

For example, although acetaminophen functions to reduce pain, it is less efficient than NSAIDs for treating arthritis. However, some NSAIDs are more beneficial than others.

Additionally, some NSAIDs only help at higher doses.

A review into NSAIDs for treating osteoarthritic pain suggests the following results:

  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others): 1,200 mg per day is no more effective than a placebo.
  • Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn, others): 750 mg per day is no more effective than a placebo.
  • Diclofenac (Arthrotec, Cambia, others): 70 mg per day is no more effective than a placebo. However, it becomes more effective than a placebo at 150 mg per day.

Diclofenac can greatly reduce arthritic pain and improve mobility in people with osteoarthritis. The review authors note that diclofenac may be the most effective NSAID for arthritic pain.

Learn more

Learn more about pain medication for arthritis:

According to a review in Frontiers in Medicine, there is evidence that exercise can reduce arthritic pain. This includes both aerobic exercise and strength training.

However, the review authors note that more research is necessary on this topic.

People may find that cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-focused group activities are also helpful.

In some cases, doctors might also recommend surgical interventions. In addition to reducing pain, surgery can improve a person’s range of motion.

Learn more about the best home remedies for arthritis.

Ibuprofen may help some people to manage arthritic pain. People should avoid taking ibuprofen for arthritis every day without speaking to a doctor first.

To treat flare-ups or short-term pain, a person can take 200–400 mg every 4–6 hours, for no longer than 10 days.

A doctor may prescribe daily ibuprofen to treat chronic pain associated with arthritis. They will tailor each dosage based on an individual’s needs.