I agree with your assessment of the dynamic involving the use of pain killers for dealing with athletic/training problems. The pain feedback is something one should pay attention to - get into a dialogue with, to monitor how things are going and learn how to modify the stresses you are applying - not numb away with drugs.
OTOH, some kinds of joint pain are congenital, degenerative, permanent, or otherwise not going to resolve. In these cases, one may have to look into symptom-mollifying options like drugs or alternative treatments. The important thing is to get an accurate diagnosis of what is actually wrong first. Make sure it is not something that could be corrected by modifying training/movement patterns or doing some kind of exercise or physical therapy regimen before you jump on the symptomatic treatments.
If it turns out to be something like arthritis, I have heard many good reports about Glucosamine/Chondrotin for this type of problem - improved symptoms and low side-effects. The issues with it are that you have to keep taking it for the benefit, it's expensive, and there are serious quality control issues - so you would need to thoroughly research the brand and so-forth.