Complementary Medicine for Arthritis
A lot of people use some form of complementary medicine to treat osteoarthritis. These treatments are often used along with standard care to help relieve their arthritis symptoms.
Some of these treatments may help you move more easily and deal with the stress and pain of arthritis. But in some cases, not much is known about how safe they are or how well they may work.
Be sure to tell your doctor about any complementary treatments you use or want to use. He or she can tell you about the possible benefits and side effects of these treatments and whether these treatments may interfere with your standard care. For example, some diet supplements and herbal medicines may cause problems if you take them with another medicine.
SAM-e is short for S-adenosylmethionine. It's a substance that occurs naturally in the body. The body makes less of it with age, so some people think that this supplement may be helpful for certain diseases.
- Vitamin B3.
Taking a type of vitamin B3 called niacinamide seems to improve joint flexibility in some people who have arthritis. It also helps pain and swelling. Some people are able to cut down on their pain medicines by taking vitamin B3. It is often included in combination pills that contain several B vitamins.
- Vitamins C and E.
These vitamins may help to reduce pain and stiffness.
- Avocado-soybean extract.
Avocado-soy extract is a soft gel pill made with avocado oil and soybean oil. It's also called ASU. Taking this supplement every day may help arthritis pain.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin.
These supplements are available in tablet, capsule, powder, or liquid form. Some people believe they help arthritis symptoms. But there isn't much evidence that they help.
- Fish oil.
Fish oil can be found in fish. But you can also get it in pills or liquid form. It may help arthritis symptoms.
- Acupuncture and massage.
Some people find treatments like acupuncture and massage helpful for their knee arthritis. But they may not help any more than a placebo (fake treatment) does.
- Capsaicin cream.
Capsaicin is found in different types of hot peppers. When a capsaicin cream or ointment is used on the skin, it helps relieve pain. Capsaicin works by first stimulating and then decreasing the intensity of pain signals in the body. Capsaicin may cause a burning feeling at first. But it usually decreases after the first use.
- Mind-body practices.
Mind-body practices, such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong, can help reduce stress and relax your mind and muscles. Stress can make pain worse. So learning to control stress and relax may help with pain.
- Taping of the knee.
Taping uses tape that sticks to the knee to help keep the kneecap in place and relieve pain. You can do taping at home. But first have your doctor or physical therapist show you the right way to put it on.
- Braces for the knee.
Braces can help shift weight off the part of your knee that hurts. It's not clear how well these work, but there isn't a lot of risk in trying them.
- Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy.
This kind of therapy uses magnets to produce an electrical pulse that may help cartilage grow.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
TENS uses a mild electrical current to reduce pain.
How safe is complementary medicine?
One of the risks of using complementary medicine is that you might use this kind of treatment instead of going to your regular doctor. Complementary medicine should be in addition to treatment from your doctor. Otherwise you may miss important treatment that could help you feel better or keep your condition from getting worse.
Some natural products may be safe when you take them on their own. But they may not be safe if you have other medical problems. And they could be dangerous when combined with another medicine you take. To be safe, always check with your doctor before you use any new natural products or supplements.
Natural products also can vary widely in how strong they are. And they may contain harmful things not listed on the label. Your doctor or practitioner may be able to recommend a brand you can trust.
Current as of: March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Jeffrey N. Katz MD, MPH - Rheumatology