Natural Osteoarthritis Pain Relief Remedies

woman's hands - one holding the other in pain at a desk

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Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that affects more than a quarter of the population of the United States, or roughly 50 million people. OA can affect virtually any joint in the body, including the knees, hips, back, shoulders, hands, and fingers. It can be quite painful and debilitating, to the point that it interferes with daily living.

There is a wide range of treatments for OA, from making lifestyle changes such as weight loss to taking pain medication to surgery, in severe cases. There also are a handful of natural remedies for osteoarthritis. Not all are recommended.

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Avocado/Soybean Unsaponifiables

Avocado/soybean unsaponifiables are among the most promising arthritis remedies. Several studies have suggested that avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, vegetable extracts made from avocado and soybean oils, can relieve pain and stiffness caused by knee and hip osteoarthritis and reduce the need for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These extracts are known to decrease inflammation and stimulate cartilage repair.

In France, avocado/soybean unsaponifiables have been approved as a prescription drug. In other countries, they are available as a supplement in some health food stores or online.

The standard dose used in research is 300 milligrams (mg) per day. Studies have found no additional benefit with higher doses. It usually takes between two weeks and two months to see any effects.

Eating avocado and soy, even in large amounts, will not provide enough of the unsaponifiables to have a therapeutic effect. Only 1/100th of the oil is the unsaponifiable portion.

The safety of avocado/soybean unsaponifiables has not been established for children, pregnant, or nursing women.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate

At least five million people in the United States take glucosamine and chondroitin alone or in combination. Glucosamine is used to make a molecule involved in the formation and repair of cartilage, the rubbery substance that cushions the joints.

Although it's unclear how glucosamine in pill form works, it's believed to allow more cartilage building blocks to be made. Chondroitin sulfate appears to block cartilage-destroying enzymes and helps the joint cartilages remain elastic and supple.

Studies on glucosamine have found a reduction in the pain, stiffness, and swelling of arthritis. It is also thought to prevent structural damage to joints.

A study published in 2018 analyzed the effects of oral glucosamine sulfate on osteoarthritis-related pain and structural changes. It showed that oral glucosamine could moderately reduce osteoarthritis-related pain but had only a minor effect on joint space narrowing. It also showed that taking the supplement in smaller doses reduced the pain by a larger extent than taking a single large dose.

The dose typically used in studies is 1500 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate and 800 to 1200 milligrams of chondroitin sulfate. Different salts of glucosamine show different levels of effectiveness. It usually takes one to three months to take effect.

However, not all research shows a benefit from glucosamine and chondroitin. In fact, guidelines from the American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation recommend against the use of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, either alone or in combination.

Side effects may include mild stomach discomfort, which can be alleviated by taking glucosamine with meals. Some glucosamine supplements are derived from the shells of crabs and other shellfish, so people with shellfish allergies should ensure they use synthetic glucosamine.

Acupuncture

The World Health Organization has identified more than 40 conditions that acupuncture may help treat, including osteoarthritis. Acupuncture involves insertig hair-thin needles into acupoints in the body. It is believed to rebalance the flow of energy, or qi, in the body. Research has found that acupuncture releases natural pain-relieving substances, such as endorphins and serotonin.

A study involving 60 people with osteoarthritis knee pain found that after eight weeks of treatment with electro and manual acupuncture, participants experienced a significant improvement in pain and joint function.

Acupuncture is conditionally recommended for treating knee, hip, and hand OA by the American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation.

Tai Chi

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that combines slow, gentle movement with meditation. There are several types of tai chi, but all involve repeating rhythmic movements and coordinated breathing from the diaphragm for 30 minutes to an hour.

The American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation strongly recommend tai chi for both hip OA and knee OA, stating the practice has a positive impact on "strength, balance, and fall prevention, as well as on depression and self-efficacy."

Yoga

Not all yoga poses involve elaborate pretzel-like twisting. In fact, yoga can be safe and effective for people with osteoarthritis. Yoga's gentle movements build strength, flexibility, and balance and reduce arthritis pain and stiffness.

A 2017 study compared the effects of a type of yoga, hatha yoga, and aerobic exercises in people with osteoarthritis of the knee. After an eight-week course of weekly 45-minute classes plus home practice sessions on two to four days per week, the participants in the yoga group showed a statistically significant reduction in pain compared with those in the aerobics group.

If you have osteoarthritis, it's important to take some simple precautions before trying yoga.

  • Talk with your doctor and ask about any restrictions.
  • Look for a teacher who has worked with people with arthritis and can suggest modifications for you. Some hospitals and community centers offer yoga classes geared to people with arthritis.

Note that the American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation conditionally recommends yoga for knee arthritis. Due to a lack of evidence, they do not make any recommendations regarding yoga and hip OA.

The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances, or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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