When joint cartilage wears away, bone rubs against bone, causing osteoarthritis. Sounds painful? It is.
Osteoarthritis seriously impairs the quality of life for 27 million Americans. Given that osteoarthritis is so disabling, painful, and common, lots of quack “cures” are out there, from shark cartilage to copper jewelry to snake venom.
But here are 13 natural remedies that research suggests may actually help ease arthritis pain.
The best remedy—maintaining a healthy weight, and losing weight if necessary—is not the easiest.
Still, every pound you pare off means 4 pounds less pressure on your knees, says Laura Robbins, senior vice president of education and academic affairs at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
Some people will see their symptoms disappear if they lose 10 to 20 pounds, says Roy Altman, MD, a rheumatologist and professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Physical activity is essential for people with osteoarthritis, whether it means walking around your apartment if you’re a fragile older person or swimming laps if you’re in better shape.
People used to think that exercise made arthritis worse, but the opposite is true—unless you’re pounding the pavement. (Runners with knee osteoarthritis should cut down on mileage, try to cross-train, and run on softer surfaces like tracks and dirt paths.)
Exercise programs should include both aerobic exercise—like walking, swimming, or biking—and strengthening exercises, such as isometric and isotonic exercises, Dr. Altman says.
Many people find that acupuncture helps relieve pain and disability due to arthritis; several studies have found benefit from the procedure.
“Several trials show acupuncture to be helpful for many people with osteoarthritis,” says Dr. Altman. “It’s not helpful in everybody.”
There is some evidence that suggests that glucosamine alleviates arthritis pain, but the type of glucosamine matters.
“There continues to be a lot of controversy about it. There’s a fair amount of data that glucosamine sulfate is beneficial, but glucosamine hydrochloride is not,” Dr. Altman says. “Almost all of the products that are sold here in the United States are glucosamine hydrochloride. There are no trials demonstrating that glucosamine hydrochloride benefits people with osteoarthritis.”
In the studies that did find benefit for glucosamine sulfate, Dr. Altman says, patients took 1,500 milligrams once a day, which resulted in better absorption in the body than splitting the dose.
Chiropractic therapy won’t help with osteoarthritis. But what it is useful for, says Dr. Altman, is treating the muscle spasms that often accompany the condition.
For example, if you have acute lower back pain, chiropractic manipulation can break up the muscle spasm and scar tissue, easing the pain.
Heat and cold treatments can also be helpful for easing these muscle spasms, which aren’t only painful, but can interfere with sleep.