Ouch, my aching joints!
If you suffer from arthritis, you might find yourself saying this a lot.
Pain is the most common symptom of arthritis along with stiffness, swelling, and decreased range of motion. Arthritis can occur in the hips, knees, neck, back, and hands. So, all of the major joints that we depend on every day. Great.
A common misconception is that arthritis is an old person's disease. Not so. Of people aged 29-44, almost 30% reported having been diagnosed with arthritis. However, the prevalence does increase with age. Hey, no one ever said getting older was fun.
What do we do about the pain? Steroid injections, pain pills, or surgery? None of these sound like great options.
What about a supplement like glucosamine or chondroitin? What are these substances? Are they safe? How do I take them? And more importantly, do they work?
What are glucosamine and chondroitin?
Glucosamine and chondroitin are natural compounds found in healthy cartilage. Cartilage is the flexible connective tissue found in your joints to connect bones together. In arthritis, the cartilage has worn down and in the most severe cases, the bones rub against each other. Ouch.
Glucosamine and chondroitin have been marketed since the 1990's for joint health and as a disease-modifying option.
Take a look around anywhere you buy supplements-- you will see a multitude of different oral glucosamine and chondroitin formulations. For skin delivery, topical preparations also exist.
Current thinking regarding glucosamine and chondroitin
Research has been trying to answer these questions: Are glucosamine and chondroitin effective for pain?
Can they reverse arthritis?
Well, unfortunately, it has been found that arthritis cannot really be cured. Bummer.
Currently, most research studies focus on the oral use of combination glucosamine and chondroitin. And the research is overall conflicting regarding their effectiveness.
For this reason, the American College of Rheumatology does not endorse glucosamine and chondroitin as first-line treatments.
However, American Family Physician does like glucosamine for arthritic knee pain.
A large research study in 2006, the Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT), found that combination glucosamine and chondroitin were more effective in reducing moderate-to-severe knee pain over placebo.
Are glucosamine and chondroitin safe?Glucosamine and chondroitin are thought to be safe when used as directed.
It is important to know that you should not take glucosamine or chondroitin if you take a blood thinner called warfarin (or Coumadin). They increase the effect of warfarin which can result in increased bleeding and bruising.
Oral use of glucosamine and chondroitin can produce mild side effects such as nausea, heartburn, diarrhea, and constipation.
Overall, since glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally occurring in our bodies, they are probably safe to use in most people.
What about skin delivery?
Maybe you've heard of topical or transdermal preparations of glucosamine and chondroitin. Are these good to use?
Of note, you may see 'topical' and 'transdermal' used interchangeably, but there is a difference.
Topical medications treat skin locally at site of application (think topical antibiotics or steroids).
Transdermal medications are actually absorbed through the skin and are intended to have an effect inside the body. Transdermal preparations are often used for anti-nausea drugs, pain relievers, and hormone replacement therapy.
Glucosamine and chondroitin can also be used on the skin in a transdermal preparation.
Research published in the Journal of Rheumatology demonstrated that topical application of glucosamine and chondroitin was more effective in relieving arthritic knee pain over placebo in as little as 4 weeks.
Use of topicals is a great option because you get the results you want without the nasty side effects of taking pills (nausea, upset stomach, bad taste). Win/win situation, right?
End the pain
Arthritic pain whether it is coming from your hips, knees, back, or hands can be debilitating and interfere with everyday life. It can be quite a struggle for many people.
There is a lot of information about glucosamine and chondroitin out there and it doesn't all agree. I get it.
But, there is a lot of reliable research that favors the use of glucosamine and chondroitin as a low-risk treatment for arthritic pain, especially for knees.
Even better, effective skin preparations are available to avoid more pill-popping.
What have you got to lose?
Meet the Author
Shannon is a nurse practitioner with an array of clinical experience. She is particularly passionate about health promotion and disease prevention. When she's not nurse practitioner-ing or writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, and yoga. You can check out her blog at https://shannonthenp.com.