I see many people every week in my clinic with chronic joint pain in their knees, hands, elbows, shoulders, and other joints. In most cases, this is caused by the most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis.
Pain-killers such as acetaminophen (Paracetamol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Nurofen) or Naproxen, are usually the first choice for joint pain relief. There are many compelling reasons to try these medications but understandably many people do not want to take these drugs long-term.
There are also dozens of supplements that claim to treat joint pain, but which ones actually work? Here’s a look at 5 of the best options and what the existing research says about them.
Glucosamine is natural component of cartilage, a substance that prevents bones from rubbing against each other and causing pain and inflammation. It might also help prevent the cartilage breakdown that can happen with arthritis.
Many supplements aimed at treating joint pain contain glucosamine, which is one of the most well-studied supplements for osteoarthritis. But despite this research, there are still some questions about how well it works.
There are two types of glucosamine found in supplements: glucosamine hydrochloride and glucosamine sulfate.
One meta-analysis (a study special study combining the results of many good studies) found that products containing glucosamine hydrochloride don’t do much to improve joint pain caused by osteoarthritis. Another study shows that glucosamine sulfate does improve these symptoms, so it’s probably a better option that glucosamine hydrochloride.
When taken over a long period of time, glucosamine sulfate may also help to slow down the progression of osteoarthritis. Some studies suggest that it slows down narrowing of the joint space, a marker of the condition getting worse, when taken for up to three years.
Tips: Glucosamine sulfate is typically taken once daily in a dose of 1,500 milligrams (mg). If this upsets your stomach, try spreading it out over three doses of 500 mg each. You can find glucosamine sulfate supplements on Amazon.
Like glucosamine, chondroitin is a building block of cartilage. It may also help prevent cartilage breakdown from osteoarthritis.
Lots of clinical studies have found that chondroitin can reduce joint pain and stiffness in people with osteoarthritis. Over 50% of people who take chondroitin have a 20 percent or greater improvement in knee pain.
Chondroitin sulfate may also slow down the progression of osteoarthritis when taken long-term. Some studies show that it slows down narrowing of the joint space when taken for up to 2 years.
Joint supplements often combine chondroitin with glucosamine. It is still not clear if taking a combination supplement is any better than taking one or the other on their own.
Tips: Chondroitin is typically taken in a dose of 400 to 800 mg two or three times per day. You can find chondroitin supplements on Amazon.
Turmeric is one of the most popular supplements for treating pain, including joint pain caused by osteoarthritis. Its pain-relieving effects are attributed to a chemical compound in turmeric called curcumin. Curcumin seems to have anti-inflammatory effects.
Although research on turmeric for joint pain is limited, an analysis of some studies found that it improves symptoms of joint pain more than a placebo and may be as effective as ibuprofen.
Try it: Turmeric is usually taken in a dose of 500 mg two to four times daily. You can find turmeric supplements on Amazon.
Clinical studies have shown that Boswellia extracts improve pain symptoms more than a placebo in people with osteoarthritis.
Tips: Studies looking at the use of Boswellia for joint pain have used doses ranging from 100 mg once per day to 333 mg three times per day. You can find Boswellia supplements on Amazon.
Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables (ASUs) refer to a type of extract from avocado and soybean oils that might help prevent the breakdown of cartilage. It may also help to repair cartilage.
Clinical studies show that ASUs improve pain symptoms more than placebo in people with osteoarthritis.
Studies have also shown that ASU can slow down the progression of knee arthritis and can reduce the amount of anti-inflammatory and other painkillers that patients with chronic joint pains need to take.
Try it: The typical dose of ASU is 300 mg per day. You can find ASU supplements on Amazon.
Tips for choosing a supplement
Choosing a supplement for joint pain can be overwhelming with the number of products available. Many of these products contain multiple ingredients. Keep in mind that a long ingredient list doesn’t always make for a better product. Do your own research.
In some cases, added ingredients don’t have any proven benefits for joint health. Others might contain multiple beneficial ingredients, such glucosamine and chondroitin. But there’s not much proof that taking supplements containing multiple ingredients is more effective than taking a single ingredient. Check the dose of the supplement and try to match it up to the doses used in the scientific studies.
Before choosing a supplement, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about other medications you’re taking so they can check for potential interactions. Some joint health supplements can interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners.
About the author:
Mr. Gareth Stables MB ChB, FRCS (Ed) T&O
Cheshire Orthopaedic surgeon, Mr Gareth Stables, is a fully UK trained Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon specialising in knee surgery. Gareth has the highest qualifications possible for an orthopaedic surgeon in the UK, FRCS (T&O), and is on the GMC specialist register for Trauma and Orthopaedic surgery.