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Does glucosamine help knee pain?

By The Health News Team | September 18, 2023
Orthopedic doctor helping patient with knee pain

You've seen the commercials advertising the natural supplements glucosamine and chondroitin to reduce joint pain. Maybe you've wondered: Could these claims be true?

Researchers wondered the same thing, leading to numerous studies examining the results of the supplements in patients. Although the research results are somewhat mixed, there appears to be little evidence that these supplements help reduce pain and swelling for people with osteoarthritis. A review of 10 different studies in the British Medical Journal showed no evidence that glucosamine supplements reduce inflammation.

"While some of my patients have had improved symptoms of arthritis, which they attribute to glucosamine, the evidence and my experience suggest that in the end, a significant expense has yielded little relief to most patients," says Dr. Jeremy McCandless, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Sharp Coronado Hospital.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are both naturally occurring substances found in joints and connective tissue. They help create the tissue that forms cartilage. In patients with osteoarthritis, that cartilage wears away, reducing the padding in joints such as knees, hips and shoulders, which results in pain and stiffness.

What the research found

Research does indicate that a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin may provide some relief for patients with moderate to severe knee pain, but the landmark Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT) showed that a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) provided significantly more relief than supplements or a placebo.

The GAIT study also found no evidence that supplements reduce the loss of cartilage in patients with osteoarthritis. Additionally, the American College of Rheumatology issued a recommendation against using glucosamine or chondroitin for the relief of osteoarthritis pain.

However, Americans still spend billions of dollars searching for pain relief each year. "Arthritis is disabling and people are desperate. Supplements like glucosamine fill a void by providing hope to patients," says Dr. McCandless. “Unfortunately, it is largely false hope.”

Effective therapies and treatments

So, what does help reduce chronic knee pain? Dr. McCandless suggests the following:

  • Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen

  • Hot and cold therapy

  • Low-impact exercise — especially bicycling, walking or swimming

  • Wearing supportive braces during exercise

  • Weight loss, if appropriate

Some patients can benefit from minimally invasive orthopedic procedures for knee pain, such as MAKOplasty® partial knee resurfacing. Sharp HealthCare is the only hospital system in San Diego offering this procedure for mid-stage osteoarthritis of the knee.

Those with advanced osteoarthritis may require full joint replacement. If you experience chronic knee pain, talk with your doctor to see if this procedure may be right for you.

Learn more about knee pain during an upcoming free webinar, Advanced Treatments for Hip and Knee Pain, hosted by Sharp Coronado Hospital on Tuesday, Sept. 19.

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