You've seen the commercials advertising the natural supplements glucosamine and chondroitin to reduce joint pain, and maybe you've wondered: Could these claims be true?
Researchers wondered the same thing, leading to numerous studies examining the results of these 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 and Sharp Grossmont hospitals.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are both naturally occurring substances found in joints and connective tissue, and 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.
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 non-steroidal 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. In 2012, the American College of Rheumatology issued a recommendation against using glucosamine or chondroitin for release of osteoarthritis pain. While sales of these supplements were down 6 percent in 2015, Americans still spent billions of dollars searching for pain relief.
"Arthritis is disabling and people are desperate. Supplements like glucosamine fill a void by providing hope to patients. Unfortunately, it is largely false hope," says Dr. McCandless.
So, what does help reduce chronic knee pain? Dr. McCandless suggests the following:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like 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 like 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 to your doctor to see if this procedure may be right for you.
For the media: To talk with Dr. McCandless about osteoarthritis, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.